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Why SC tuition hikes are the lowest in years

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Students walk along the University of South Carolina Horseshoe. File/Andrew Whitaker/Staff

COLUMBIA — Students at South Carolina public colleges are seeing the lowest bump in their tuition rate in years.

After receiving state money to keep down costs, Clemson University, College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina University and The Citadel all have raised in-state tuition by 1 percent or less for next fall. Francis Marion University in Florence is not raising tuition. 

On Friday, University of South Carolina trustees approved to raise in-state tuition by less than 1 percent, the smallest hike at the state's largest college since the Reagan administration.

"Our obligation is to make certain, as much as possible, that higher education is affordable and accessible to South Carolinians," said Brendan Kelly, USC's incoming interim president.

The smaller-than-usual tuition hikes came with $36 million set aside by the state Legislature to ease rising in-state student costs.

Lawmakers have complained for years about the rising tuition costs at public colleges for South Carolina students. Schools say they have raised costs, typically around 3 percent a year, because they get such a small percentage of their funding from the state budget. 

But some colleges said the efforts to tamp down tuition hikes came at the price of planned programs or projects.

The Citadel planned to start an engineering program and a wellness center for active duty veterans and first responders, but the school decided to keep tuition down instead, said Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman at the college.

"We'll still be able to implement it, but probably more slowly," Dorrian said, "and that's OK."

Out-of-state tuition hikes, meanwhile, are remaining the same as recent years.

Still, state money dedicated to lowering in-state tuition hikes shows universities and lawmakers are “dedicated to keeping college affordable,” Clemson spokesman Joe Galbraith said.

“I’m hoping it’ll be cyclical to where the students go back out into South Carolina and contribute to the economy and the growth of the state,” he said.

Clemson raised in-state tuition by 1 percent, or $150, to $15,120, while out-of-state rates rise by 3.7 percent, or $1,300, to $38,112, the school said.

At USC, this year’s 0.6 percent increase means in-state students will pay $76 more than last year, totaling $12,616. Out-of-state students will pay over $600 more with a 1.9 percent hike, totaling $33,930.

College of Charleston's tuition also increased by less than 1 percent, school President Andrew Hsu said. 

In-state students paid an extra $400 this year, but their tuition bill is going up about $100 more this fall, totaling $12,518. Charleston bumped out-of-state tuition up to $32,848. 

"We set the second smallest in-state undergraduate tuition increase in 20 years,” Hsu said. "This will allow the college to continue to meet its public mission by keeping costs affordable."

But tuition is just part of the costs to send students to college, and the Legislature's tuition pool did not keep those expenses from rising.

Housing, dining and laboratory fees will increase like they have in recent years.

USC housing and costs are rising by 2.5 percent and meal plans are going up by 2.9 percent. That's about $56 more a year for food and $140 to $280 more for housing.

Coastal Carolina University, however, is continuing a freeze on housing fees that started in 2014, college spokeswoman Martha Hunn said.

Friday's USC trustee meeting was the final one before the retirement of President Harris Pastides.

"The goal is to not take your foot off the accelerator for too long," Pastides said while talking about the school's budget for the year. "But with the presidential transition, I mean, you got to get out of the car."

Kelly, chancellor at USC Upstate, was brought in to lead the college temporarily after the trustees decided against picking one of the four finalists in late April. 

"It's a time for thoughtful consideration of how we proceed now," Kelly said. "When you come off of an administration that's lasted 11 years, it's built a lot of things. We want to build upon that. That's what it's all about."

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