S.C. State loses 500 students

Quentin Morrision, spotting to his uncle in the audience in South Carolina State University's football stadium, was one of more than 500 receiving degrees on Friday, May 4, 2012. Buy this photo

ORANGEBURG — South Carolina State University’s enrollment plunged nearly 500 students this year, marking the fifth consecutive year the number of students has dropped.

And that drop has created a budget shortfall of about $6 million, which would have come from in-state and out-of-state tuition, said Eric Eaton, the school’s associate vice president for finance.

That’s about 7 percent of the school’s operating budget for 2012-13, and budget cuts to accommodate that might eliminate funding this year for the troubled James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center.

The university’s initial operating budget is $90.5 million, and the university board’s Finance Committee needs to revise that to $83.3 million.

The university board’s Finance Committee met Wednesday to begin discussing how to cut $6 million from this year’s budget and reverse the trend in declining enrollment. The full board will meet Sept. 13 to approve a modified budget for the year.

Eaton has proposed the university eliminate $1.6 million that previously was approved for construction of the transportation center.

He also proposes a:

7 percent cut in all departments.

10.75 percent cut in all discretionary spending.

Hiring freeze.

Dormitory consolidation.

Board member Anthony Grant said that although the university can’t afford to pay for transportation center construction this year, it’s possible interim President Cynthia Warrick can raise that money from private sources. “I’m an advocate for it,” Grant said of the center. “I just don’t think we can afford it at this juncture.”

Board member Maurice Washington said the school couldn’t afford the transportation center expense when it considered it in June. “We certainly can’t afford to do it now,” he said. “We still don’t have programs to operate out of the facility.”

Warrick said her plan to deal with the current shortfall is to simply find a way to financially get through this year, and then to develop a strategic plan to grow enrollment.

Eaton said the decline in enrollment likely is due to too many students not earning high enough grade-point averages to continue to receive financial aid. Without such aid, many students can’t continue to attend the university.

He also said the university’s rate of attrition, that is the number of students who after completing a year don’t enroll the next year, was higher in 2012 than in any other year. But he didn’t say why that is so. University staff members currently are examining the declining enrollment trend, he said.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.

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