Accountability-based system proposed
The new funding model will allocate money to higher education institutions based on several criteria, including their retention and six-year graduation rates, the diversity of their student populations, the number of South Carolina students they admit, the job placement of their alumni and the their overall contribution to the state's economic development.
How state money will be actually be distributed under the new model is a big issue, one that has been debated among university presidents since the governor announced her plan. The bigger issue: Will the money distributed be from new funds or the increasingly limited budget on which South Carolina public institutions are currently struggling to survive?
"If this becomes a way to redistribute the existing funds for higher education, then I think that there is going to be significant friction, because if there's new funding then basically everybody is a winner," Amiridis said. "If you redistribute the existing funding, there's going to be winners and losers, and, as you can imagine, the losers aren't going to like it very much."
Amiridis said that the formula USC and other state universities agreed upon, and the one submitted to the governor by the state Commission on Higher Education (CHE), is based on new funding. But after consecutive years of higher education budget cuts, whether more funding will materialize is in doubt. The CHE requested more money from the governor last week to reverse state budget cuts.
Whether the university will be competing with other institutions for new money or for slices of the same meager pie, Amiridis said he didn't see any part of the USC system losing out.
"We have substantially increased the number of South Carolinians that we are serving with less funds while other institutions have not done this, so it's very difficult for us to see how this can do anything but help the case of the USC System," Amiridis said. "But you know in a political process that has so many parameters, there are a lot of unknowns."
In a numbers competition, USC-Columbia's position looks relatively solid. It enrolls more South Carolina students than any other in-state institution, according to the latest statistics from the CHE. It has the second highest freshman retention rate behind Clemson University among public state institutions, and the third highest six-year graduation rate behind Clemson and The Citadel.
At USC's perimeter campuses, the numbers are much different, but Amiridis said these campuses couldn't rationally lose much more funding because they are already so grossly underfunded. He said he hopes the new model will rectify this.
"The regional schools take a lot of students we wouldn't take in Columbia because we know their probability of success in Columbia is very low," Amiridis said. "But we also know that it is important for these kids to try, and our experience shows that a good percentage of them make it through the regional campuses, and then when they come back to us after two years, they're rock solid."
Amiridis expressed concern that the formula could hurt other institutions that accept academically less-prepared students, and that it's hard to gauge how transfer students, who don't technically graduate from their initial institutions, are counted. He also pointed out a catch-22 of a model that rewards both graduation rates and accepting more South Carolina students.
"If we significantly reduced the size of our incoming class, our SAT score is going to be significantly higher and would have a direct effect on graduation and retention rates," Amiridis said. "At the same time, if we do that we exclude several hundred South Carolina students from attending the University of South Carolina."