Could Winthrop students see fees rise?

Last August, the Winthrop University Convocation and Blue Line Procession kicked off the new school year. President Dan Mahony and his wife, Laura, led the procession on the Rock Hill campus.
Last August, the Winthrop University Convocation and Blue Line Procession kicked off the new school year. President Dan Mahony and his wife, Laura, led the procession on the Rock Hill campus.

Winthrop students may be seeing an increase in student fees in the fall semester.

A presentation on Winthrop University’s budget given to the board of trustees Friday includes a proposal for a 1 percent increase in students’ education and general fees for 2016-17. If adopted, the proposal would represent a $71 increase in the fee for in-state students, and a $65 “differential” fee for out-of-state students, for a total increase of $136 for those coming from outside South Carolina.

Winthrop projects the fee increase would increase in annual operating revenue for the university from in-state fees paid by students to $624,800, plus an additional $132,600 in out-of-state payments.

University officials said the fee increase proposal was used as an example, and the school is not considering an increase in tuition at this time. Trustees are expected to consider fee and tuition increases at their June board meeting.

Winthrop President Dan Mahony outlined the school’s financial situation in a presentation to the university’s board of trustees on Friday, midway through the spring semester.

The main point, Mahony said, is that the university is on course to balance its $152 million budget for the 2015-16.

“Not all universities can say that right now,” he said.

Mahony noted that revenue from Winthrop students in the form of tuition and fees has increased 43 percent in the past decade, from $46.9 million in 2007-08 to $67.1 million in the last school year.

Mahony also said Winthrop’s enrollment has stabilized around 6,000 students, after the school saw enrollment fall from 6,553 students in 2003 to 6,130 in 2013, according to statistics from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education.

During the same period, Winthrop has seen its appropriations from the state drop from $25.6 million in 2007-08 to $14.5 million in 2014-15. State grants and contracts over the same period have trended up, from $21.3 million to $33.1 million.

Revenue from other, auxiliary sources (such as housing and food services) contributed around $20 million to Winthrop’s 2014-15 collection.

“Revenues at most universities are now largely tuition-driven,” the president said. “We saw enrollment decline, which makes financing more difficult to deal with.”

Winthrop estimates that based on current fee rates, 100 new in-state freshmen would mean a $1 million increase in school revenue.

Meanwhile, Winthrop has sought savings elsewhere. At its Jan. 29 meeting, the board voted unanimously to issue $9.1 million in new higher education revenue bonds, which are expected to save the university $526,000 this year.

The $526,000 in expected bond refinance savings are in addition to more than $1 million in other savings made through refinancing, approved by the Winthrop board in October. In that action, the Winthrop board agreed to refinance general obligation state institution bonds, espected to save $1.4 million in debt repayment.

Winthrop’s 2014-15 budget has also stabilized, with the board’s finance committee hearing that a $1.4 million “efficiencies” budget set aside at the beginning of the school year has been reduced to $194,952 thanks to greater than expected revenue – including an additional $300,000 in tuition and fees from enrollment growth – and $700,00 in savings from vacant job positions.

Winthrop undergraduates currently pay the third-highest in-state cost of attendance for a public university in South Carolina – $27,200. A cadet at The Citadel pays $31,352 and a Clemson student pays $27,890. At USC’s main Columbia campus, a student pays $22,896, however the USC system did not provide transportation, personal and loan fees for comparison, although they are included in the figures for other schools.)

For an out-of-state Winthrop student, the cost of attendance is $40,370, compared to $52,333 at The Citadel; $46,808 at Clemson; $45,501 at the College of Charleston; and $41,712 at USC Columbia.

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome