USC considers charging different tuition for some majors

The University of the South Carolina is exploring charging higher tuition for some majors — and lowering the cost of others.

Dozens of other colleges nationwide have added tuition for high-demand, high-cost majors in recent years. Those majors have included business, engineering and nursing, which can lead to higher-paying careers.

“Look at what it costs to deliver an engineering degree” compared to a philosophy degree, USC president Harris Pastides told trustees Tuesday. “Yet these two students pay the same amount of tuition.”

After the board meeting, Pastides said he could see lowering the price tag on humanities majors, such as history, which have lower salary potential.

The tuition rate changes would come for students in their third and fourth of a major, when they are closer to graduating, he said.

Pastides appointed top school administrators, including provost Joan Gabel and senior vice president for administration Ed Walton, to spend a year examining the possibility of charging flexible tuition rates for some programs.

Starting a variable tuition program could be several years away, Pastides said.

A Cornell University study found that nearly 150 public colleges charge higher tuition and fees for some majors. The schools included Clemson and Francis Marion universities in South Carolina as well as the flagship schools in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Clemson charges an extra $2,000 a year for students in its College of Business and Behavioral Science. Francis Marion charges 53 percent more for tuition, or an extra $5,400 a year, for upper-class undergraduates in its nursing and engineering programs.

USC already charges extra fees for engineering and nursing programs to cover higher faculty and lab costs, not because of the demand for the classes or higher income potential, school spokesman Wes Hickman said.

Charging an extra tuition for some majors would add transparency to bill that parents and students expect, Pastides said. The school’s schedule of fees has grown too large, he said. “You have to look behind a lot of stuff to find out that going to nursing is more expensive.”

Pastides acknowledged some students might choose to go to other schools that have no special price bumps. A 2013 study by a University of Michigan researcher found degrees in engineering and business fell after higher tuition programs began, while the number of nursing graduates rose.

Tuition has been a sensitive topic South Carolina, where the state’s two main colleges — USC and Clemson — charge about 40 percent more in tuition than the average public four-year school, based on an analysis by The State.

College officials said the schools charge higher tuition because S.C. lawmakers do not provide as much funding for higher education as other states. Four-year public colleges in only two states received a smaller percentage of their total revenue from state funding than S.C. colleges, an analysis by The State found.