SC lawmakers approve college tuition freeze for 2019-2020 school year

Is it possible for USC tuition to not increase this year?

In his State of USC address, president Harris Pastides said he doesn't want to raise tuition this year.
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In his State of USC address, president Harris Pastides said he doesn't want to raise tuition this year.

South Carolina students attending public colleges next school year will not be paying any more money than they did last year for classes.

State lawmakers boosted funding to higher education by $36 million in exchange for the schools promising not to raise in-state tuition except by the amount needed to cover state-mandated health insurance and pension costs, according to the recently passed S.C. State House budget.

In 2018, retirement and health insurance costs increased roughly $5.2 million, according to USC’s budget documents.

As Gov. Henry McMaster’s vetoed certain portions of the budget, he sent an open letter to lawmakers saying he hoped the tuition freeze will be “a first step toward a comprehensive overhaul of higher education funding and tuition reform.”

The tuition freeze and increased funding is “the best budget for South Carolina college students in many years,” University of South Carolina spokesman Jeff Stensland said.

“We’re extremely grateful to the General Assembly as well as the governor for recognizing the importance of higher education investment and the direct impact it has on keeping college affordable,” Stensland said in an email. “We look forward to continuing the conversation with them about ways to ensure sustainable higher education funding to benefit future generations of South Carolinians.”

Lawmakers considered a more permanent solution to slowing the growth of tuition — the bipartisan Opportunity Act — but that bill has not yet passed the Senate. The bill would create a $125 million trust fund fed by online sales tax while requiring public colleges and universities to limit how much they increase tuition.

Late last year, University of South Carolina officials told lawmakers it would need $11.3 million for its eight campuses to keep tuition down. The approved budget gave $14.8 million to USC for all of its campuses, $8.3 million of which is for the school’s main campus in Columbia, according to budget documents.

Last year, USC received an additional $8.2 million in recurring funds from the state legislature. That year, USC raised tuition and fees 2.9 percent — raising the cost to in-state students by $354. Those tuition increases netted USC an increase of $11.2 million in revenue.

USC’s board of trustees will likely decide on 2019-2020 tuition rates late next month, Stensland said.