Politics & Government

Out-of-state students double at USC

Out-of-state students are on the rise at the Palmetto State’s flagship university, driving much of the University of South Carolina’s rapid expansion over the past decade.

The number of out-of-state students at the Columbia school more than doubled from 2006 to 2015, increasing faster than at any other four-year college in the state, according to the latest data from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education.

Meanwhile, in-state enrollment has grown more slowly. The number of S.C. residents studying at USC’s downtown campus increased 9.4 percent from 2006 to 2015.

USC is not alone in rapidly expanding its out-of-state student population.

The increase in out-of-state students also has outpaced gains in in-state enrollment at four other four-year public schools, data show. Those schools are Clemson University, Coastal Carolina and two USC affiliates, USC-Aiken and USC-Upstate.

USC traces its growth in out-of-state students to a lack of state money for higher education since the Great Recession, saying the trend has offset budget shortfalls by recruiting nonresidents. In theory, those students pay higher tuition and, typically, earn better SAT scores, boosting the school’s academic reputation.

Despite the influx of out-of-state students, USC says it still carries out its mission of educating South Carolinians, important to budget-setting S.C. legislators. USC points out the Columbia school now is home to more S.C. residents than ever before.

And, the university contends, out-of-state students help drive the S.C. economy – touring the state as high-schoolers, living here for four years and, sometimes, settling down in South Carolina.

“Out-of-state students are a tremendous benefit to our state,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. “They subsidize the education of South Carolinians. They are six-year tourists, and they stick around.”

Of USC’s 300,000 living alumni, 180,000 live in South Carolina, said Hickman, who had no breakdown of whether those S.C. residents were in-state or out-of-state grads.

‘It’s a trend that’s going to keep on’

State Sen. Brad Hutto has noticed that the state government class he teaches once a semester at USC’s lauded Honors College increasingly is filled with out-of-staters. But the Orangeburg Democrat does not mind.

Nonresidents, many lured to the Honors College or top-ranked international business program, bring a different perspective to classrooms and the campus, Hutto said.

“If everybody’s all from South Carolina, it’s more like a glorified high school,” he said.

Out-of-state residents make up 43 percent of USC’s current student body, up from roughly 25 percent in 2006, according to commission data.

Named in 2015 as the fourth-fastest growing state flagship school in the country, USC says its students hail from all 50 U.S. states and 105 countries. Many come to USC from border states Georgia and North Carolina, and up the I-95 corridor.

While those four other schools also are enrolling more nonresidents, Coastal Carolina was the only S.C. public college with more out-of-state than in-state students as of 2015 – 4,928 vs. 4,687.

Hutto, like USC, points the finger at the S.C. Legislature.

In 2007-08, state taxpayer dollars accounted for 23 percent of USC’s then-$1 billion budget. This year, about 10.5 percent of USC’s $1.5 billion budget comes from the state.

“They’re doing it because of a lack of funding on our part,” Hutto said. “Until we come up with a mechanism for funding higher ed better, it’s a trend that is going to keep on.”

‘Target in-state students first’

Though some may question why S.C. taxpayers are paying to educate Georgians and North Carolinians, some S.C. lawmakers say they have no problem with an influx of out-of-state students, so long as S.C. colleges fulfill their role in educating S.C. residents.

“You want all of your public universities to target in-state students first,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “If you’re asking taxpayers to support those (schools) and you’re asking private business in this state to support those, then you want that to be used for your students.”

USC says the $15,641 a semester it charges nonresidents for tuition and fees helps pay to educate its S.C. students.

It costs more to educate in-state residents than the $5,927 a semester that USC charges those students, Hickman said. Out-of-state students subsidize that cost, he said, though some receive USC scholarships that ensure they do not pay full sticker price.

Hickman on Friday did not have data on how many out-of-state students pay full price – or what those who get discounted tuition pay.

But he said out-of-state students are an economic driver.

“We are importing talent into our state, which is good for our economy,” Hickman said. “If you want to look at it from an economic impact standpoint, an out-of-state student is a six-year tourist.

“They start junior year in high school touring. They’re here for four years spending money, eating out at restaurants, buying things at local retailers. Parents and family are coming into town for football games. Out-of-state students are a tremendous boon to our economy.”

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

Not from around here

Some S.C. colleges are enrolling more and more out-of-state students, a move, they say, that shores up their budgets. The percentage of each public four-year colleges’ student body that hails from outside the Palmetto State.

Coastal Carolina University: 51.3 percent

The Citadel: 42.7 percent

USC-Columbia: 39.5 percent

College of Charleston: 39 percent

Clemson University: 33.3 percent

S.C. State University: 16.9 percent

USC-Beaufort: 16.8 percent

USC-Aiken: 13.9 percent

Winthrop University: 9.7 percent

Lander University: 9 percent

USC-Upstate: 6.7 percent

Francis Marion: 4.5 percent

SOURCE: 2015 Commission on Higher Education data