Spencer Scott Nelson, Spencer Scott Nelson

Commencement issue: After 5 years of rapid growth, USC faces new challenges, questions

Harris Pastides had been USC’s president three weeks when the first cut came.

Another came in October. One more in December.

There were five budget cuts that year, worth $36.9 million on the Columbia campus. More than 23 percent in a year.

South Carolina’s tax revenue was falling in 2008, and politicians’ talk of austerity grew. USC’s cuts — real and rumored — formed a bleak backdrop for a budding presidency.

“Those were scary times,” Chief Financial Officer Ed Walton said. “People did not know what was coming next.”

To compensate, the university froze hiring, losing 273 employees to retirement and other jobs. It brought in extra students: about 5,000 more in five years. It raised tuition: more than 22 percent for in-state students and nearly a quarter for everyone else.

Pastides, 59, is credited with navigating the Great Recession, improving key measures of academic quality and posturing it to improve more.

But staying afloat had consequences, and the university will feel them for years, officials say.

Five years later, in the Fall of 2013, USC is forced into a corner. It can’t raise tuition any more, and an already-packed campus can’t handle more students.

USC is at a pivot point: It faces big-picture questions of what it wants to be — and what it can afford.

How big should it be? How can it grow more? Who does it serve?

And mostly, what’s next?

Read the full version of this story, published in 2013.


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