7 things USC’s next president will have to do after Pastides retires

In the coming years, someone at the University of South Carolina is going to have to do something about rising tuition, the portion of students from out-of-state and finding a new way to boost state funding.

Come next summer, that someone is no longer going to be President Harris Pastides.

Though it’s not clear who will lead the state’s flagship university next, USC’s next president will have to be different to meet the challenges that arise in the next 10 years, Pastides said at his Wednesday retirement announcement.

“New presidents at every school, not just USC, are going to have to adjust to the rapidly changing higher education landscape,” Commission on Higher Education Chairman Tim Hofferth said in a statement. “The operating models employed over the last ten or fifteen years relied on annually raising tuition and increasing enrollments. To a large extent, those levers probably aren’t going to be available in the future. Having said that, USC is a great school with tremendous potential. I believe they can meet the challenge.”

The Board of Trustees is expected to form a search committee, the first step in selecting the next president, at the board’s Oct. 19 meeting, board Chairman John Von Lehe said.

That committee will be made up of five Board of Trustees members, the head of the alumni association, faculty senate chairman Marco Valtorta, two other faculty members, a representative from the university’s foundations and USC Student Body President Taylor Wright, according to the board’s bylaws.

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Pastides’ last day will be July 31, 2019, he said.

“It will be very difficult to find a person with all of the skills Harris Pastides has,” said Tom Cofield, a member of the USC Board of Trustees. “He wears a lot of hats.”

Here are seven key issues the next president of USC must consider tackling:

1. Cap or reduce tuition

Tuition at the average four-year college in South Carolina has increased 39 percent since 2008, and USC was no exception, according to data from the Commission on Higher Education.

With student loan debt in South Carolina among the highest in the country and default rates above average, colleges and universities throughout the state are less affordable than ever.

“A decade from now, our university must be more affordable without compromising quality to our students,” Pastides said in his Wednesday speech.

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For students, the cost of tuition is among their top priorities, according The State’s polling of USC students.

“We have to find ways to make college more affordable, especially for South Carolinians,” Wright, the student body president, said. “I’m excited for a new chapter.”

2. Finish major construction projects

The biggest physical change coming to USC’s campus is a 3,750-bed, $460 million student housing project dubbed “Campus Village.”

Construction crews have yet to break ground on the project, which is expected to open in several phases, starting in 2020. This is more of a logistics issue than a budget issue, as a private developer, not the university, is paying for the construction and maintenance of the new development.

“That’s going to be a big thing that’s going to continue into the new president’s time,” said Von Lehe, the Board of Trustees chairman.

University officials also plan to build a $200 million medical school building at the BullStreet development, renovate Williams-Brice Stadium for $750,000 and restore Carolina Coliseum, a project that does not yet have a price tag.

Those are in addition to the five major renovation projects already underway on campus, including renovations to the historic Horseshoe wall and the former law school building.

3. Pay down debt

USC students spend more paying off the university’s debt than they do on any other fee, according to the university’s budget documents. And with tuition climbing each year, so is the amount each student pays for USC’s debt.

Each semester, in-state students spend $320 paying down the university’s debt, while out-of-state students spend $816, budget documents show.

That amount has grown 15 percent since the 2010-2011 school year, when in-state students paid $278 per semester toward university debt, budget documents show.

As of April 30, the university owes $603 million in bonds alone. That’s a 17 percent increase in bond debt since 2015, when the university owed $514 million in bonds, budget documents show.

4. Change recruitment strategy

A host of factors is likely to drive the university to rethink its wildly successful methods for recruiting more students.

For one, USC’s strategy for the past 10 years has focused heavily on attracting out-of-state students. Between 2008 and 2017, out-of-state student enrollment increased six times faster than in-state enrollment, according to Commission on Higher Education data. But state lawmakers — who control how much money USC receives from the state budget — want that to change.

State Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has called the number of out-of-state students attending USC — and the $84 million in tuition discounts they received in 2016 — “unacceptable.”

State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, who also sits on the Senate Education Committee, has also been critical of out-of-state enrollment, especially its effect on the declining percentage of African-American undergraduates.

Secondly, the percentage of S.C. high school graduates attending “research institutions” like USC and Clemson University decreased between 2006 and 2016, according to commission data.

If USC chooses to continue its aggressive out-of-state recruitment strategy, it will be competing with other colleges for a shrinking pool of potential applicants. The top five feeder states outside of the South — Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania — are expecting “declining or stagnant high school graduates,” according to a fact sheet from the Commission on Higher Education.

5. Control university costs

If USC indeed slows enrollment and tuition growth, the university is going to have to cut costs.

“The challenges for me and the next president are absolutely going to be cost control,” Pastides said at an August meeting with reporters from The State.

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Some of this cost control is going to have to come from the administration. Other parts of cost control will have to come from the students. Simply put, students can’t afford to graduate in six years, as is the national average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

USC plans to encourage quicker graduation by expanding the amount of three-week courses offered over winter break, promoting programs for students to spend their first two years at technical college and rolling out a program for some majors to graduate in three years.

Pastides said receiving an undergraduate degree in six years will soon be seen as “academic malpractice.”

6. Deal with student behavior in Five Points

In one of the rare instances where USC finds itself at odds with a sizable portion of its student body, university officials will have to continue cracking down on student hell-raising in the Five Points entertainment district.

Citing student safety, the university has publicly opposed multiple Five Points bars as they have sought to renew their liquor licenses.

“Allowing bars and clubs to continue to promote late-night and early-morning drinking as an inexpensive activity, with little regard for legal ordinances, places undue burdens on law enforcement, diminishes the quality of life for nearby residents and endangers our students,” Pastides said during his Wednesday speech.

While alcohol-fueled antics and an increasing number of students in the area is enough to make neighbors feel as if they’re being pushed out, recent events have prompted concerns about students safety in the Five Points neighborhood.

At the annual St. Pat’s in Five Points block party in March, a gunman fired into a crowd, injuring three.

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7. Find new money

Not only will the next president have to be a competent fundraiser, but he or she will have to be able to stump for higher education funding in the State House. As higher ed officials have been saying, the only way to lower tuition is to get more money from the state.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act is an ambitious proposal to dedicate money from online sales taxes to higher education in exchange for colleges to freezing or capping tuition. The current proposal would add $125 million to higher education.

“My biggest goal is to work with the state government to secure a funding stream,” Pastides said. “There’s no doubt this legislation represents the most significant investment in education in 10 years.”

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One more thing...

Get used to seeing Pastides around campus.

It’s probably too early to close the history books on his time at USC. In announcing his retirement, Pastides mentioned several times that he wants to come back as a professor after taking a break.

“I may find a new way to serve the university,” Pastides said.

As Board of Trustee member Eddie Floyd notes, Pastides, the former dean of the Arnold School of Public Health and vice president for Research and Health Sciences, has tenure.

Chairman Von Lehe said he thinks Pastides would be good to run the School of Public Health.

“We expected and hoped that Harris (Pastides) was going to be with us at least two more years,” Von Lehe said. “I understand his reasons. ... He just wants to have a life like anyone else.”

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