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USC trustees tentatively approve 6.9 percent increase in tuition

University of South Carolina trustees tentatively approved a 6.9 percent increase in tuition and fees Friday for South Carolina resident undergraduates.

The new sticker price increasing the annual cost by $538 to $8,346 at the state's flagship university is midrange among state-assisted South Carolina colleges.

Francis Marion University trustees recently approved a 7.25 percent increase to $7,038 annually for the Florence campus.

Clemson University President Jim Barker has proposed a 5 percent increase to $9,870 per year, but Clemson's trustees delayed approval until the Legislature agrees on a budget that begins July 1.

South Carolina State University, the historically black, state-assisted institution in Orangeburg, approved a budget earlier this week that contains no increase in tuition or required fees.

The new USC budget also reflects growing concerns about campus safety in the wake of the nation's worst rampage by a gunman at Virginia Tech. A new full-time employee in charge of emergency preparations will be funded with $101,901. Another $456,443 will provide "safety enhancements" such as campus call boxes and surveillance cameras.

USC's utility costs are expected to grow by almost $1 million. And enrollment growth will require the addition of a third spring commencement date.

On Friday, USC's board executive committee approved a budget that chief financial officer Rick Kelly predicted will breach the $1 billion level before the next financial year ends.

The official plan, which includes the tuition increase, calls for spending $996.2 million for the Columbia campus and its seven regional campuses. Usually, the executive committee's recommendation receives approval from the full board, which will meet June 28.

In recent years, the percentage of state taxpayer dollars used to operate state colleges has been shrinking, while student fees have been rising. In the new USC budget, state appropriations will provide 22.9 percent, or $228.6 million, of the USC system's budget. Meanwhile, student fees will comprise 35.7 percent, or $354.3 million, of revenues.

Inflation in college costs has consistently outpaced the rising cost of ordinary goods and services. Last year, the federal Consumer Price Index increased 2.5 percent. But USC boosted tuition and fees by 6.75 percent, the smallest increase since 2001.

Some of the state appropriations are contingent upon passage of a new state budget, which the House and Senate have not agreed on yet. In USC's budget, $13 million anticipates increased funding by the Legislature over last year.

USC students will pay new fees for transportation ($20 annually), a student-run television channel ($4), and athletics (a $40 annual increase to $104).

Kelly said that with core campus parking at a premium, more and more students are riding the shuttle bus service. He expects ridership to reach 6,000 daily next year. The new fee will produce $400,000 in new revenue.

The $4 annual student activities fee will pay for a student-run television channel on the Gamecock network. And the $40 annual increase in athletic fees will support improvements in sports opportunities for women.

Tuition and fees for nonresident undergraduates would increase $1,396 annually to $21,632.

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