Budget cuts, low-caliber students encourage USC to seek out-of-state talent
A decade ago, USC Columbia’s freshman class was 78 percent in-state students.
This fall, only about 57 percent of the incoming freshman class was from South Carolina.
The decreasing majority of South Carolinians at their flagship university comes as the General Assembly is considering a cap on the number of out-of-state students that public colleges can admit. One proviso before the legislature would cap that number at 25 percent of total enrollment, said USC Provost
Michael Amiridis. The argument is that the fewer in-state students a university admits, the less it is serving the citizens of South Carolina. Amiridis disagrees.
“The bottom line is that, and I don’t know if people realize this, we are accepting every qualified South Carolinian,” Amiridis said. “Qualified means approximately 1000 SAT and 3.0 GPA.”
He said accepting more in-state students would require admitting students whose credentials don’t meet that already modest requirement.
“I think it’s unethical, because we are getting kids in who we think have a very high probability of not finishing,” Amiridis said.
The decrease is also in tandem with state higher education budget cuts forcing USC to rely more on tuition. Out-of-state students pay $25,362 in yearly tuition compared to in-state students’ $9,786.
“It is a way to have more funding; they are subsidizing the education of South Carolinians,” Amiridis said. “At the same time, apparently, we are giving them a product they are satisfied with, otherwise they wouldn’t come. So what’s wrong with this?”
At the Faculty Senate meeting last month, USC President Harris Pastides said he had reminded legislators that the tuition checks out-of-state students write provide USC more funding than the state does.
But if USC’s plan is to admit more out-of-state students to counteract budget cuts, that plan may backfire. South Carolina Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell said at last week’s College Republicans meeting that for the first time, legislators had used the number of out-of-state students a university admits as a criterion in determining how much funding it should receive. Harrell said institutions that received more money from out-of-state students deserve less money from South Carolina taxpayers.
Several other large South Carolina public colleges have 2010 freshman class in-state student percentages similar to USC’s. The College of Charleston is 66 percent in-state, Clemson is 61 percent in-state and Coastal Carolina is 47 percent in-state. What singles USC out then is not its in-state percentage but how quickly that percentage has fallen. Clemson’s freshman class in 2003 was 66 percent in-state, while Carolina was still at 75 percent.
Smaller public colleges have higher in-state percentages. One such institution is Winthrop University, where 83.1 percent of the freshman class is from South Carolina.
“We’ve always been dedicated to serving South Carolina students first and foremost; that’s been very intentional on our part,” said Rebecca Masters, assistant to the president for Public Affairs at Winthrop. “We recruit internationally, but as a public institution we realize that our first mission is to serve South Carolina.”
As for the composition of future freshman classes at USC, Amiridis said the percentage of in-state students won’t decline for the next four to five years.