School remains in top 50, falls behind Clemson
A prominent national magazine indicates USC has dropped in educational value for the dollar and is now behind Clemson.
USC slid 10 spots from 32nd to 42nd in Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine's Best Values in Public Colleges rankings for 2011. Clemson was ranked one spot behind USC at 33rd last year, but dropped to 41st in 2010. The close rivalry is in stark contrast to the 2008-09 rankings, when USC ranked 60th and Clemson ranked 34th.
Dennis Pruitt, USC's vice president for Student Affairs, said the drop "is a sole reflection of the amount of state funding we're receiving in South Carolina." Pruitt added USC's ranking in the top 50 "is particularly significant because the University is an institution that, even with shrinking budgets, continues to provide a wonderful educational experience."
According to the University's website, undergraduate tuition went up 6.9 percent for 2010-11, an increase of $315 per semester for in-state students. Eight of the $15.525 million generated from that increase is meant to cover for cuts in state appropriations. Pruitt said that without state lottery scholarships, students would have suffered more and the ranking would have dropped further.
"The thing that's saving us as an institution, and saving Clemson and the College of Charleston, is those state lottery scholarships for in-state students," Pruitt said. "Our students receive almost $45 million in scholarships from the lottery scholarship program."
But according to Kiplinger's, the price tag of an institution accounts for only about one-third of its ranking; academic quality makes up the rest. This results in some confusion and anger, evidenced in the comment board on Kiplinger's website. Efforts to reach Kiplinger's for comment were unsuccessful.
Kiplinger's rankings exclude non-four-year schools and schools with specialized curricula, such as military service academies. It ranks academic quality based on variety of measures "including SAT or ACT scores, admission and retention rates, student-faculty ration and four- and six-year graduation rates."
It ranks costs using total expenses, average costs minus grants, percentage of need met by aid and the average debt per student at graduation. In-state and out-of-state values are ranked separately — USC's out-of-state ranking in 2011 is 55.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has topped the list for a decade, and was followed this year by the University of Florida.
"If Chapel Hill for 10 years has received twice as much funding for students as we have, think about the money they've accumulated," said Pruitt. "We all have to acknowledge that South Carolina is a small state — we don't have the same amount of resources as North Carolina has."
According to Kiplinger's data, provided by Peterson's/Nelnet LLC, the cost after need-based aid for an in-state student at the prestigious UNC Chapel Hill is $7,020. For a similar student at USC, the cost is $14,145 — more than double.
"The investment this state needs to make in education would be required to be at the level they're making in North Carolina or Virginia or Florida or Texas in order for us to move up in those rankings," Pruitt said. "If we continue to be at the size we're at, with the level of funding we have, our next challenge will be to make sure those students in future generations have the same experience that past generations had."
Despite the drop, Pruitt maintained that the continued ranking in the top 50 was a victory.
"Over the same 10 years [Chapel Hill has been No. 1] our applications have doubled, our SAT scores have gone up 100 points," he said. "There are over 4,500 institutions in the country, and if you're in the top 10 percent you're in a very good position."