Talbert Black Jr. was the first person in his family to go to college and he worked his way through to get his Clemson degree.
The Lexington County resident told a couple of hundred legislators and college officials attending Gov. Mark Sanford’s Higher Education Summit on Tuesday that with a more than two-fold increase in tuition at Clemson since then, he’d like to know where the money is going. His son has joined the U.S. Army Reserves and will apply to Clemson in the spring.
“He wants to pay for it himself,” Black said.
Families like this are getting priced out of higher education, all attending the summit agreed, but controlling costs at the state’s colleges and universities is a complex proposal.
Legislative appropriations to the state’s higher-education institutions have dropped from a high of $758 million in 2007-2008 to about $420 million this current year.
The reality, Sanford said, is that policymakers have to fill a hole in the state’s budget next year, and colleges and universities should brace for more cuts.
Cost-saving suggestions floated at the summit included creating a statewide board charged with eliminating redundancies among the colleges, making state employees at-will, streamlining approval of construction projects, expanding the hours colleges offer classes, collaborating more among institutions and implementing more distance-education options.
No one suggested that tuition and fees are the answer.
‘We don’t like raising tuition either,” said Cathy Sams, Clemson University’s spokeswoman, who was among several officials from the school attending the summit.
Some debate arose over what figures truly reflected the state’s financial support of higher education, but Republican Sen. John Courson of Columbia said the total was down about 40 percent whether or not lottery-funded scholarships to students was included.
Commerce Department economist Rebecca Gunnlaugsson presented a series of graphs showing South Carolina outpacing the Southeast average for tuition increases from 1999 to 2008. Tuition increased at state schools by 166 percent compared to 96.7 percent across the region.
Meanwhile, total revenue at South Carolina schools from 1999 through 2008 increased 37 percent compared to 28.8 percent across the Southeast. Inflation during this period was 19.7 percent.
Gunnlaugsson’s graphs also showed South Carolina revenues per student by 2008 were on par with the region as a whole—indicating the state had closed a funding gap in the preceding decade compared to surrounding states.
But a larger portion of that revenue was from tuition in South Carolina compared to other states. At an average of $7,500 in tuition and fees collected from students, the nearest next state was Virginia at about $7,000.
Garrison Walters, executive director of the state’s Commission on Higher Education, said the state’s focus should be on getting more young people into college no matter what. Fewer than one in four South Carolinians have bachelor’s degrees, he said. The state ranked 41st in 1990 and was 40th in 2008.
“We are far behind and not catching up on the knowledge economy,” Walters said.
The long-term answer, Walters said, was to increased efficiencies on campus and bumping up collaboration between campuses. Also key to creating an educated population, he said, is changing the culture of the state.
Tri-County Tech President Ronnie Booth said he’s sending two high-level administrators to Columbia to answer any questions the Committee on Higher Education might have related to a $32,000 expenditure on a $3.2 million project. Such trips cost time and money and can delay projects for years, he said, and Sanford agreed to look into it.
“Lord help us if we’re not there to answer questions,” Booth said. “They will table it.”
Michael Poliakoff, policy director of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said spending on instruction is lagging behind administration nationally at the same time tuition is skyrocketing. He said schools must learn to do more with less—emphasizing high-quality core academics, which cost less and limiting auxiliary activities.
He said schools could also save money by scheduling high-demand classes early in the morning and on Friday afternoons—thus using facilities that otherwise sit idle.
Clemson’s Sams said she came away from the summit encouraged that the state’s schools would work together to find solutions.
“I think we’re already changing the way we do business,” she said.