The Daily Gamecock

Pastides delivers ‘Case for Carolina’

In speech to legislature, president asks for no state tuition regulations

USC President Harris Pastides delivered an impassioned “Case for Carolina” to a subcommittee of South Carolina legislators Wednesday, asking the lawmaking body to not cap out-of-state students or tuition at public colleges in a painful budget cycle.

And unlike previous years, Pastides didn’t ask for state appropriations to increase or even maintain the status quo.

“We knew not to come in and ask for state funding,” Pastides said. “This is the year it’s about how much is going to be lost.”

Pastides and USC administrators are bracing for another year of budget slashes from the state.

Legislators are facing a budget shortfall of more than $800 million, and it was evident in the committee meeting Wednesday. Advocates for arts groups, public libraries and other bodies were present at the meeting as well, delivering pleas for support.

No federal stimulus dollars are in sight, and South Carolina law requires the General Assembly to balance the budget. That means state funding cuts are likely on the horizon for many state agencies, including USC. The University has suffered a 47 percent reduction in state appropriations since 2008. It now receives approximately 10 percent of its overall budget from the General Assembly and will likely see another cut this year.

He outlined cuts at USC, including: the elimination of 160 full-time positions, the discontinuation of nine bachelor’s degree programs and a hiring freeze for many positions at USC.

A tuition ban or cap on out-of-state students, coupled with a reduction in state funding, could be especially painful, Pastides said.

But it’s not guaranteed lawmakers will heed Pastides’s requests.

Upset over reports that South Carolina ranks highest in the Southeast in tuition rates, lawmakers could discuss proposing a tuition cap this spring. Budget and Control Board members previously issued a construction ban on new capital projects for several state colleges that hiked tuition more than 7 percent last year. USC hiked its tuition 6.9 percent for the 2010-11 school year.

Pastides promised administration figures and board of trustees members would be “careful and compassionate” when considering another tuition increase.

“Our decision-making process regarding tuition is the single most important financial deliberation that we make,” Pastides said. “And it is discussed and voted upon in a completely transparent process.”

Lawmakers have also expressed displeasure with the percentage of out-of-state students at public universities, saying state dollars are supporting students not from South Carolina. Rep. Chip Limehouse, chairman of the House Means and Ways Education Subcommittee, said at least 75 percent of students at any given school should be in-state.

But Pastides said out-of-state students often enhance the quality of life, provide more funding for the University than state appropriations and are necessary for continued success.

Limehouse prodded Pastides on Innovista and USC’s recent partnership with the Greenville Hospital System to create a medical school in the Upstate. Limehouse and other legislators have expressed concern about the need for another public medical school with USC’s School of Medicine and MUSC in Charleston.

Legislators quizzed Pastides about USC’s “rainy day” fund of more than $190 million. Pastides said most of those funds were committed to programs, scholarships or initiatives and aren’t truly “unrestricted assets.”

The committee also called for more four-year education institutions in South Carolina and asked Pastides to prepare a feasibility report for next year.

The appearance was carefully choreographed and planned, as USC administrators prepared graphs, talking points and student cameos throughout dozens of pages of information. Administrators arrived en masse, primarily wearing garnet and black.

In a staging ploy,Pastides relinquished the podium midspeech to USC Honors College and international studies student Alex Tracy, who delivered brief remarks about her experience at Carolina.

“Please, as you consider higher education funding, remember us, the students, who are directly affected by the decisions you make here,” Tracy said. “ ... Higher education isn’t a budget line to those of us at public universities.”