S.C. tuition rates are at the top in 16-state region

Clemson University president James Barker has proposed for this fall a 5 percent increase for state residents, to $9,870 per year in tuition and required fees. Clemson trustees will consider the proposal Friday.

The increases continue a long-term trend of declining state funding and rising tuition that has driven students' out-of-pocket costs to the highest in the 16-state Southern Regional Education Board.

In 2006, South Carolina's median, or midpoint, tuition and required fees for in-state undergraduates totaled $6,700:

• The second-highest student costs were the $6,400 median in Delaware and Maryland.

• In North Carolina, the median was $3,400.

• In Georgia, the median was $3,000, the lowest out-of-pocket cost for students in the region.

South Carolina's average tuition and fees increased 72 percent between 1996 and 2006.

Rebecca Masters, assistant to the Winthrop president for public affairs, noted "a troubling trend" in the new state budget that has some of the state's four-year public institutions receiving lump-sum earmarked funds rather than disbursements under a formula that is supposed to respond to an institution's mission needs, not political clout.

For example, Coastal Carolina University is to receive $3 million earmarked for "other operations expenses," while most other four-year institutions will not receive a similar allocation. Clemson University and the University of South Carolina are receiving $4.8 million apiece for faculty replacement initiatives.

Masters said all state colleges face the same challenges of replacing retiring baby-boomer professors, but only the research universities are receiving additional funds for that purpose.

This year, Winthrop's state funding was just $887,907 more than in 1997, according to figures from the Commission on Higher Education.

Next year, Winthrop's total budget will include 20 percent from the General Assembly, compared with 44 percent in 1990 and 38 percent 10 years ago.

"When public funding declines to that sort of percentage, you are forced to begin operating more like a private institution," Masters said. "And since comprehensive institutions have had no capital bond bill funds for new construction since 2000 (though research institutions split $210 million three ways a few years back), our academic facilities funding is now included in tuition/student fees."

Winthrop's executive committee also voted Tuesday in favor of a budget that would increase out-of-state undergraduate tuition by 8.37 percent, to $19,054 annually.

In a statement issued by the university, president Anthony DiGiorgio said the increase was driven in part by a $236,100 reduction in funding by the General Assembly for the year that begins July 1. Winthrop also received no additional funds to adjust for inflation, a university spokeswoman said.

Gov. Mark Sanford plans to announce his budget vetoes for the state's 2007-08 budget today.

Sanford's spokesman, Joel Sawyer, would not comment about how budget vetoes might affect colleges. But he said the new tuition levels illustrate the need for "a more coordinated approach to higher education as a whole."