Winthrop increases tuition by 8.3 percent

Winthrop University students will pay higher tuition for the fall semester.

The university's board of trustees voted Tuesday to raise tuition by 8.3 percent, up from last year's 6.4 percent increase. That means South Carolina residents will pay $425 more per semester, for a total of $5,530. Students from other states will pay $788 more, or $10,305 per semester.

In addition, students who live on campus will pay more for housing and meals. Trustees voted in April to raise the price -- 6.3 percent for housing and 5.2 percent for meal plans.

State residents living on campus can expect to pay about $8,600 per semester for tuition plus room and board. Out-of-state students who live on campus will pay about $13,000 per semester.

In-state graduate students will pay about $5,300 per semester, up from $4,900 last year. Out-of-state graduate students will pay about $9,900, up from $9,100.

Public universities generally raise tuition yearly to keep up with inflation and operating costs. But Winthrop officials say planning this year's budget was especially difficult because state legislators have cut funding for higher education.

"To say this has been one of our more challenging years would be ... a classic understatement," Winthrop President Anthony DiGiorgio told the board of trustees Tuesday.

Tuition money represents the largest source of revenue for public universities. The other significant portion comes from the state. But the state's contribution has declined in recent years, forcing university officials to trim costs and find money elsewhere.

Legislators approved the state's budget in June with a "substantial decrease in revenue" for higher education, said Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee and the higher education subcommittee. Overall, "the funding (for higher education) has not been consistent," Matthews said. "Last year, I think we did pretty good by higher education. But this year was bad."

State officials had to adjust down this year because there was less money to work with, Matthews said.

"When I started (as Winthrop's president), the state provided about 44 percent of Winthrop's funding," DiGiorgio said. "This year, the state will provide 18 percent."

Universities around the state are grappling with the same issue.

Coastal Carolina University, for example, raised tuition by about 14 percent. Part of the increase will go to pay back tuition bonds, but it's mostly due to the drop in state funds, said Will Garland, Coastal Carolina's vice president of finance.

University of South Carolina students will pay 5.9 percent more in tuition next semester.

Clemson University's trustees have yet to vote on a tuition increase.

"We were waiting to see what happened with the state's budget process," said Clemson spokeswoman Cathy Sams. The school's trustees might vote on an increase at their July 18 meeting, she said.

Winthrop's tuition increases are typically approved by early June, spokeswoman Rebecca Masters said. But the board delayed approving the tuition increase so staff members could revise the budget.

Last week, the school capped the pending increase at 8.7 percent so prospective students could gauge what it would cost to enroll, Masters said.

After trustees voted Tuesday morning, staff members prepared to send out bills for next year.