Tuition may rise by 3.6%

A group of incoming College of Charleston students makes its way down St. Philip Street during orientation last July. Public colleges across the state are expecting even more applications this year, as students opt for in-state schools due to the economy.

Undergraduate tuition at the University of South Carolina in Columbia is set to increase 3.6 percent next year, a jump school leaders say they kept as low as possible, despite drastic cuts in state money.

USC President Harris Pastides said the board of trustees executive committee voted Thursday to keep the increase at the level of the Higher Education Price Index, an inflation rate specific to higher education institutions.

"The university's budget cuts have been historic, and we have made some difficult choices," Pastides said. "However, I pledged that we would not resort to a steep tuition increase to offset these cuts, and for the Columbia undergraduates we did not raise tuition one penny above the inflation rate. I am keenly aware of the burden that a big increase would create for our students and their families, and I want to increase, not diminish, access to the University of South Carolina."

Next year, in-state undergraduate students will pay $9,156 in tuition, up

$318 from last year. Out-of-state undergraduates will pay $23,732, which is $824 more than they paid last year. The full board will vote later in the month on the increases.

Pastides said that the $24 million the university will receive in federal stimulus money next year helped the university keep the tuition increase low.

At the Columbia campus, he said, a tuition increase of 16.5 percent would have been required to restore the university's base budget to the beginning base level for fiscal year 2009.

USC junior Brittany Gunn, who is from Summerville, said tuition "goes up every year, so I've come to expect it to go up."

Olivia Reburn, a junior from Rock Hill, said the increase is "fairly reasonable considering the economic situation of our country."

Both students said they receive a lot of scholarship money, much of it from the South Carolina Education Lottery, so the increase won't hurt them much.

Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said that in his role to draft the first version of the higher education budget for the state Legislature, he is acutely aware of the dwindling state support for colleges and universities.

He said he wants to turn that around, but at the same time noted that lottery scholarships should be viewed as state support. He said roughly 90 percent of in-state college students are receiving some sort of lottery aid.

"I am not pleased that tuition is going up," he said. "Our goal is to make higher education more affordable for South Carolinians; however, on the bright side, a 3.6 percent increase is not as bad as it could be."

But climbing tuition rates are a problem for many students, said Alan Richard, director of communications for the Southern Regional Education Board. He said college is less affordable today for many families at a time when the country needs more people to finish college degrees and career certificates.

The average cost of an education at a South Carolina public college was $7,700 for in-state students in 2007-08, the last year for which comparative data is available. That tops the national average of $5,500 for public colleges and the Southern average of $5,000, Richard said.

The state also is among those in the Southern region that receive the least amount of state support. Only two states in the region receive less from their legislatures, Texas and Delaware.

HIGHER (COST) EDUCATION

University of South Carolina tuition for 2009-10:

• $9,156 for in-state undergraduates, up $318

• $23,732 for out-of-state undergraduates, up $824

• $10,188 for in-state graduate students, up $352

• $21,480 for out-of-state graduate students, up $744

South Carolina in-state, undergraduate tuition increases for 2009-10:

College of Charleston — 7 percent

South Carolina State University — 8.4 percent

Trident Technical College — 3.6 percent

University of South Carolina — 3.6 percent

Clemson University — Not yet determined

The Citadel — Announced today