The University of South Carolina Beaufort likely will be able to fill more faculty positions next school year, thanks to a $1.2 million boost from the General Assembly.
The state Senate on Tuesday signed off on a House bill to increase annual recurring state funding for USCB. The college will receive $2.6 million for the next fiscal year, which begins in July. It received $1.4 million during the current school year.
USCB currently receives the lowest per-student funding of any of South Carolina's teaching-focused public universities -- $940 per full-time state-resident student, compared to a statewide average of $2,487.
The 40-4 Senate vote will raise USCB's per-student spending to $1,769, just above that of USC Upstate in Spartanburg and Coastal Carolina University.
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"This is a huge leap forward for USCB and gets them on solid financial footing for the first time," Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said.
"I am pleased that a more equitable share of the state's higher education budget will now be going to USCB on a recurring basis -- and that we accomplished that without raising taxes or fees," Davis added in a statement.
Davis, other members of the Beaufort and Jasper counties' legislative delegations and the Beaufort-Jasper Higher Education Commission urged lawmakers during the past five months to fix funding inequities among state universities.
"One of the benefits of serving on the (Senate) Finance Committee is being heard, and after years of being on the short (end) of the stick in so many areas ... Beaufort County is starting to get a fair shake," Davis said.
USCB leaders have long argued the formula has not been adjusted to account for the enrollment growth at USCB or two similar colleges, USC Aiken and USC Upstate.
The college's enrollment has more than doubled since it began offering four-year degrees a decade ago. It went from 680 full-time students in 2002 to 1,547 in 2012, according to USCB vice chancellor Lynn McGee.
Since then, the university has also more than doubled its academic programs and doctorate-qualified faculty, making it the fastest-growing baccalaureate institution in the state for a decade. However, it received just 4 percent of its budget from state allocations, the lowest percentage of any public university in South Carolina, according to McGee. Eighty percent comes from tuition and other university funds. The rest comes from the Beaufort-Jasper Higher Education Commission, according to the university.
"We view this as a first step to ultimate equity," McGee said. "We still have a long way to go to make sure our students and institution are on a level playing field with peer public universities in the state."
McGee said USCB can now "move forward with confidence" in hiring faculty to fill vacancies and support operations previously funded by one-time money.
"This has been a two-year campaign that has involved leadership by the legislative delegation, all levels of local government and community supporters across our region," she said. "... The local support for USCB has been exceptional."
Chancellor Jane Upshaw thanked Davis for being "an outstanding supporter of USCB."
"Although it doesn't address all of the appropriation needs of USCB, it helps us achieve a more stable financial position for the future," Upshaw said.
The funding bill now heads to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature.