S.C. State University officials said Tuesday they expect enrollment to be down by 1,200 from last fall to 2,100 students on campus when classes resume in August.
In an attempt to attract another 550 students, the board of the state’s only historically black public college pledged Tuesday to raise $1 million for scholarships. That would bring enrollment to 2,650, matching original budgeted forecasts.
Yet even getting back to that student level would require a $19 million budget cut to avoid a deficit, Edward Patrick, S.C. State’s interim vice president for finance, told trustees at a meeting Tuesday.
And if enrollment reaches just 2,100, S.C. State would need to cut nearly $35 million in spending to stay above water, Patrick said.
No decisions have been made about cuts for next year. But trustees were agitated Tuesday when they saw employee salaries and benefits are forecast to finish this year $4.2 million above budget.
The school is on track to post a $5.7 million loss when its current budget year ends June 30. S.C. State president Thomas Elzey, whose staff put together the budget proposal, was fired in March.
S.C. State already is bracing for reduced spending. The school’s athletics director said the school has received a one-year waiver from the NCAA to cut the amount of money awarded in scholarships by up to 75 percent.
“It looks like we have a very, very serious problem,” said S.C. State trustees chairman Charlie Way, who was part of a total replacement of the school’s board last month.
S.C. State’s problems were years in the making.
The 119-year-old school had almost 5,000 students in 2007. But cuts in federal financial aid programs reduced enrollment. The school, like others across South Carolina, also lost some of its state money in the wake of the Great Recession.
S.C. State leaders, however, did not cut its budgets enough as the school’s enrollment shrank. That left the school, beset by administrative turmoil, unable to pay its bills. It owes $13.3 million to food service, maintenance and other vendors. S.C State also owes at least $6 million to the state, a loan used to pay employees and utility bills last year.
State lawmakers fired S.C. State’s trustees last month, unhappy they had been unable to keep the school’s deficit from growing despite budget and staff cuts.
In their second meeting since assuming control, the school’s seven new trustees pledged to raise $1 million for scholarships
They also hired Peter Mitchell, a former Columbia College president, as a turnaround specialist. The terms of Mitchell’s contract remain under negotiation, said Rick Camp, a Columbia attorney hired to help the board.
S.C. State has more than 1,500 overdue bills, some dating back to 2012, according to state data. The board also agreed Tuesday to enter into payment negotiations with an undisclosed major vendor. No details were disclosed.
Some other help could be on the way for the school.
Way, a real estate developer and former S.C. Commerce Department secretary, said he expects the state to extend repayment of the $6 million loan that it made to the school, due June 30.
S.C. State leaders also are confident the school soon could receive a $4.5 million from a $12 million fund set aside for the school last year by a panel of lawmakers. The school also has started a $20 million fund-raising campaign.
Recruiting and retaining students remains difficult at S.C. State.
School administrators said they will have less financial aid money to offer students next year. Nearly nine of every 10 students on campus receive financial aid. And, during the current academic year, S.C. State received an extra $658,000 from its foundation to help with scholarships.
The school’s enrollment also has been hurt by continued publicity about its financial troubles, the newly appointed trustees said. S.C. State administrators said they have taken to emphasizing the college remains open after threats by some lawmakers this year to temporarily close the school.
S.C. State’s money troubles also have led to other problems. The school’s accreditation was placed on probation last year.
A group of S.C. State officials are heading to a hearing next week before the school’s accreditors, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. They will make a final pitch before a late June commission vote on whether to keep S.C. State on probation for one more year or revoke its accreditation.
Students cannot receive federal financial aid at unaccredited colleges.
Trustees said they are confident S.C. State will survive the financial crisis. But the school will undergo changes, including reducing the number of majors it offers, to focus on its strengths, they added.
“Once you do that, you have to rebrand what this school is about,” said trustees vice chairman James Clark,. a retired AT&T executive. “This ain’t your granddaddy’s S.C. State.”
At a board meeting Tuesday, S.C. State University trustees:
▪ Pledged to raise $1 million for scholarships in an effort to add 550 students next year
▪ Hired Peter Mitchell, a former Columbia College president, as an adviser
▪ Said they expect the state will extend repayment of a $6 million loan to the school, due June 30, and release $4.5 million from a $12 million fund set aside for the school
▪ Agreed to negotiate a payment settlement with an unnamed vendor