State Senator battles tuition increases

State Sen. Hugh Leatherman

One of the state's most powerful legislators has threatened budgetary consequences for public universities that raised tuition more than 7.3 percent for the 2010-2011 school year.

That includes the College of Charleston, which raised tuition 14.8 percent; The Citadel, which approved a 13 percent jump; and Clemson University, with a 7.5 percent increase. The schools have the largest percentage increases among the state's public four-year institutions.

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in a June 11 letter to leaders at all of the state's two- and four-year colleges and universities asked those that raised tuition more than 7.3 percent to reconsider immediately. If they don't, the letter stated, "I will vigorously pursue appropriate action during the next budget cycle on behalf of in-state students and their families harmed by such decisions."

The Florence Republican also stated that for schools that don't comply, he would have "no option but to plan for targeted appropriations, targeted tuition caps, as well as reasonable caps on out-of-state student enrollment."

College of Charleston President George Benson didn't want to comment Monday on Leatherman's letter, said Mike Robertson, the college's senior director of media relations. Benson and other school officials are in the process of setting up a meeting with Leatherman to discuss the matter, Robertson said.

Marie Land, chairman of the college's Board of Trustees, said, "We're respectful of Sen. Leatherman and his position."

College leaders considered many factors before they agreed to a 14.8 percent tuition increase, Land said. The college already has made many budget cuts to compensate for cuts in state funding. And school leaders are looking for new ways to bring in more money, she said.

The tuition increase also will go toward increasing financial aid and paying for projects in the college's new strategic plan, Land said.

Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa was in Scotland on Monday with The Citadel's Regimental Band and Pipes and could not be reached for comment.

But Jeffrey Perez, vice president for external affairs, responded on behalf of the military college. "We share Sen. Leatherman's concerns regarding the cost of higher education," he said.

Although tuition at The Citadel will jump 13 percent, the overall cost of attending the school, including room and board, will increase only 6.3 percent in the 2010-11 school year, he said. That's a more important figure for students at The Citadel, who are required to live on campus, he said. "We believe targeting the all-in cost provides the greatest transparency for families."

Leatherman is a strong advocate for families in South Carolina, Perez said. "We respect and admire that, and we look forward to working with Sen. Leatherman on behalf of those families, The Citadel and higher education in South Carolina."

Marvin Carmichael, assistant to the president at Clemson, said the university went slightly over Leatherman's recommended increase so it could offer financial assistance to low-income seniors who are struggling to pay for their final year in college. The two-tenths of a percentage point over the recommendation will bring in about $200,000 for financial assistance, he said. And the university has matched that with $200,000 in private donations.

Tuition increase for state residents for 2010-11:

School / Annual tuition / Increase

College of Charleston / $10,314 / 14.8 percent

The Citadel / $9,871 / 13.0 percent

Clemson / $11,90 8 / 7.5 percent

USC / $9,786 / 6.9 percent

South Carolina State / $8,946 / 5.7 percent

Coastal Carolina / $9,390 / 4.9 percent