S.C. students should brace themselves to pay roughly $400 more in tuition to attend the University of South Carolina this coming school year, according to two sources close to the school.
USC’s trustees are expected to consider a tuition hike Friday in the neighborhood of 3.4 percent, the sources said. If approved, the tuition hike would cost in-state students about $400 more and out-of-state students about $1,000 more, starting this fall.
USC did not announce the size of the proposed increase before Friday’s trustees meeting. However, a 3.4 percent hike would be the largest in six years.
The hike is bad news for students and their parents.
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It comes a year after researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania ranked the Palmetto State 44th in the country in college affordability.
That report found 28 percent of S.C. families – those with annual incomes below $30,000 – would have to spend, on average, 87 percent of their income to send a child to a public research institution like USC. Higher education was less affordable in only one other state in the Southeast, Alabama.
Still, tuition hikes are not new, nor is the blame game surrounding them.
The state’s flagship university has increased its prices every year since 1987. Already this summer, The Citadel, Coastal Carolina, the College of Charleston and S.C. State University have approved tuition hikes – most in the range of 3 percent to 3.25 percent.
For almost as long, the state’s leaders – Republicans – have criticized those price hikes.
In 2010, then-Gov. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, held a summit with college leaders, pointing out what he said were inefficiencies in higher education that led to higher costs.
That same year, powerful GOP state Sen. Hugh Leatherman of Florence briefly persuaded other state leaders to block building projects for colleges that had announced large tuition hikes.
Colleges, in turn, have pointed the finger back at the GOP-controlled Legislature, which slashed state funding of higher education after the 2007 Great Recession.
State appropriations for USC’s downtown Columbia campus, for example, dropped to $85 million in 2011-12 from $162.6 million in 2008-09. The school is set to receive $114.7 million during next school year.
USC has said it wants nothing more than to freeze tuition.
In 2014, USC offered lawmakers a “tuition timeout” in exchange for $10.1 million in added state money to cover the cost of state-mandated salary and health insurance hikes for university employees. But the General Assembly let that proposal die, instead spending $4 million for an efficiency study to find savings at all public colleges.
USC’s 3.25-percent tuition hike last year was the largest in five years. This proposed hike would be larger.
S.C. colleges warned earlier this year that the Legislature’s actions this session would force tuition increases.
For example, S.C. lawmakers approved a law requiring colleges to contribute 2 percent more of their employees’ pay to cover the cost of their state pensions. The state will cover only half that higher bill for most college employees.
That leaves colleges – and their students and their parents – on the hook for the other half.
Colleges also must pay higher health-care costs for some of their employees.
“Public policy is driving up tuition costs for students and families,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said in March.
A 3.4 percent tuition increase would bring tuition and fees for S.C. residents attending USC to roughly $12,260 for the 2017-18 school year. USC’s out-of-state tuition sticker price would be more than $32,300 next year, if approved.
Tuition costs rise
Tuition hikes that other S.C. four-year public colleges have announced for the fall:
In state: +3.25 percent, or an added $745; $23,673 total (1) (2)
Out of state: +3.25 percent, or an added $1,430; $45,436 total (1) (2)
In state: +2.99 percent, or an added $324; $11,200 total
Out of state: +2.99 percent, or an added $752; $25,872 total
College of Charleston
In state: +5.38 percent, or an added $612; $11,998 total
Out of state: +2.85 percent, or an added $842; $30,386 total
S.C. State University
In state: +3 percent, or an added $270; $10,740 total
Out of state: +3 percent, or an added $570, $21,120 total
(1) For upperclassmen
(2) Including meals, housing, uniforms, laundry, books and haircuts