South Carolina

S.C. State expects enrollment to fall to 2,100

S.C. State University officials said Tuesday they expect enrollment to be down by 1,200 from last fall.
S.C. State University officials said Tuesday they expect enrollment to be down by 1,200 from last fall. gmelendez@thestate.com

South Carolina State University officials said Tuesday they expect enrollment to be down by 1,200 from last fall to 2,100 students on campus when classes resume in August.

In an attempt to attract another 550 students, the board of the state’s only historically black public college pledged to raise $1 million for scholarships. That would bring enrollment to 2,650, matching original budgeted forecasts.

Yet even getting back to that student level would require a $19 million budget cut to avoid a deficit, Edward Patrick, S.C. State’s interim vice president for finance, told trustees Tuesday. And if enrollment reaches just 2,100, S.C. State would need to cut nearly $35 million in spending to stay above water, Patrick said.

No decisions have been made about cuts for next year. But trustees were agitated Tuesday when they saw employee salaries and benefits are forecast to finish this year $4.2 million above budget.

The school is on track to post a $5.7 million loss when its budget year ends June 30. S.C. State president Thomas Elzey, whose staff put together the budget proposal, was fired in March.

S.C. State is bracing for reduced spending. The school’s athletics director said the school has received a one-year waiver from the NCAA to cut the amount of money awarded in scholarships by up to 75 percent.

“It looks like we have a very, very serious problem,” said S.C. State trustees chairman Charlie Way, who was part of a total replacement of the school’s board last month.

S.C. State’s problems were years in the making.

The 119-year-old school had almost 5,000 students in 2007. But cuts in federal financial aid programs reduced enrollment. The school, like others across South Carolina, also lost some of its state money in the wake of the Great Recession.

S.C. State leaders, however, did not cut its budgets enough as the school’s enrollment shrank. That left the school, beset by administrative turmoil, unable to pay its bills. It owes $13.3 million to food service, maintenance and other vendors. S.C State also owes at least $6 million to the state, a loan used to pay employees and utility bills last year.

State lawmakers fired S.C. State’s trustees last month, unhappy they had been unable to keep the school’s deficit from growing despite budget and staff cuts.

In their second meeting since assuming control, the school’s seven new trustees pledged to raise $1 million for scholarships.

They also hired Peter Mitchell, a former Columbia College president, as a turnaround specialist. The terms of Mitchell’s contract remain under negotiation, said Rick Camp, a Columbia attorney hired to help the board.

S.C. State has more than 1,500 overdue bills, some dating back to 2012, according to state data. The board also agreed Tuesday to enter into payment negotiations with an undisclosed major vendor. No details were disclosed.

Some other help could be on the way for the school.

Way, a real estate developer and former S.C. Commerce Department secretary, said he expects the state to extend repayment of the $6 million loan that it made to the school, due June 30.

S.C. State leaders also are confident the school soon could receive a $4.5 million from a $12 million fund set aside for the school last year by a panel of lawmakers. The school also has started a $20 million fund-raising campaign.

Taking steps

At a board meeting Tuesday, S.C. State University trustees:

▪  Pledged to raise $1 million for scholarships in an effort to add 550 students next year

▪  Hired Peter Mitchell, a former Columbia College president, as an adviser

▪  Said they expect the state will extend repayment of a $6 million loan to the school, due June 30, and release $4.5 million from a $12 million fund set aside for the school

▪  Agreed to negotiate a payment settlement with an unnamed vendor

  Comments