The offer by University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides to freeze tuition and halt requests for state money for special projects in return for more money from the Legislature is a reasonable proposal. But it’s also a deal that any public college or university in the state probably would jump at if the numbers are right.
Pastides, during his state of the university address Sept. 18, said he would freeze tuition and make no requests for funding for special projects for three years if lawmakers would agree to cover the cost of pay increases and higher health-insurance premiums for USC employees. He also wants money for the school’s higher energy bills.
It is worth noting that USC already has received state money for several special projects in recent years – including an expansion of its summer semester and helping pay for a new $80 million law school building and a new online college. Those projects wouldn’t be affected by the three-year freeze, and the school could use fundraising to pay for other special projects, Pastides said.
Still, the basic concept, boiled down to its essence, is sound: USC will freeze tuition if the state will give the school more money.
South Carolina schools charged the highest average tuition for public colleges in the Southeast in 2011, and among the highest nationwide. USC’s tuition for in-state students – now $10,816 a year – has risen by 30 percent since the economic downturn started in 2007, more than double the rate of inflation.
Meanwhile, annual state funding of the school has dropped by $76 million to $108 million over the past six years. South Carolina ranks among the lowest in the nation in state funding of its public colleges.
Both Pastides and state lawmakers no doubt have done the math. The way to ease the burden of rising tuition for students and their families is to increase the contribution from the state.
Lawmakers who oversee the budget for higher education are predictably enthusiastic about a potential tuition freeze. In the recent past, former Gov. Mark Sanford and a number of state lawmakers pushed for a cap on tuitions with no reciprocal increase in state funding.
Lawmakers say they will wait to see how much more state money USC wants in return. Placating constituents by containing tuition costs is the easy part. Providing colleges and universities with the money they need is the hard part.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has backed more money for public colleges because of the role they play in the state’s economy. She and Pastides also call for establishing a performance-based funding formula for the state’s public colleges.
We’re hopeful that Pastides’ offer and pressure from the governor and like-minded lawmakers can help refocus attention on the need to both increase state support for higher education and relieve the relentless rise in tuition costs for students.
Both are needed to sustain the quality of South Carolina’s colleges and universities, and to ensure that qualified students at all economic levels will be able to afford to go to college.