Politics & Government

Avoiding tuition hikes will be USC's top goal next year

Students gathered with faculty, friends and families at the Colonial Life Arena to celebrate University of South Carolina’s new graduates in May 2015.
Students gathered with faculty, friends and families at the Colonial Life Arena to celebrate University of South Carolina’s new graduates in May 2015. File/The State

The University of South Carolina has a goal of holding its tuition costs flat next year. It’s hoping the S.C. Legislature will help it reach that goal.

USC president Harris Pastides said reining in tuition is his top goal Tuesday as he asked lawmakers for $27.7 million in additional taxpayer money for the USC system in next year’s state budget.

Pastides said the university needs state support to meet that goal.

“You hold the key to tuition, not me,” Pastides told an S.C. House panel Tuesday, submitting the school’s budget request.

USC has increased tuition every year since 1987, including a 3.46 percent increase last summer.

When all of South Carolina’s four-year public universities are factored in, the Palmetto State has one of the highest tuition rates in the country.

Pastides said the Legislature needs to set a clearer baseline funding formula for the state’s colleges and universities so that they have better guidance when setting their budgets.

“I’ve never had a student ask me, ‘Why did my tuition go up?’ ” Pastides said. “They ask, ‘Why doesn’t the state fund it?’”

Lawmakers didn’t commit to any new state money for USC next year.

State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, said USC’s appropriation from the state — now $110 million — is more than the additional, new revenue the state expects to collect this year.

Responding to Pastides, Finlay said, “Parents in my district say, ‘It (tuition) goes up every year, and I’m worried about my taxes.’ ”

Currently, in-state students pay $12,264 in tuition for USC’s downtown Columbia campus. For out-of-state students, the sticker price for tuition is $32,364.

Out-of-state students – and the higher tuition that they pay – now are USC’s biggest source of revenue, while state funding is fifth. Nevertheless, Pastides told the panel his goals for the coming year include enrolling more South Carolinians and boosting minority enrollment, while meeting the state’s expected needs going forward.

“A Moore School study shows South Carolina needs more graduates — 70,000 above what we have today — to meet our state’s economic development needs,” he said. “We can’t get 70,000 new graduates without” out-of-state students.

USC also has several on-campus needs it hopes will be met in a proposed higher education bond bill under consideration in the Legislature.

The university would receive $25 million from that bond, only half of what the school had requested to start construction on a new medical school at the BullStreet development in Columbia. Instead, USC’s portion of the bond money — if it passes — will go toward renovating its former law school building.

USC last year requested $178 million in bond money. Statewide, colleges submitted $1.1 billion in borrowing requests. But the bond bill stalled.

A smaller $498 million bond bill, now under consideration, would be used to pay for various state priorities, including $30 million for the state Education Department to buy new school buses.

Of the remainder, $25 million each would go to USC, Clemson University and Medical University of South Carolina. Another $12 million would go to the College of Charleston; $10 million to Winthrop University; $8 million each to Coastal Carolina University, Francis Marion University, S.C. State University, USC Beaufort and USC Upstate; $7.5 million to Lander University; and $11.4 million for other USC branch campuses.

Another $87 million would go to the state’s technical colleges.