Efforts last year to get more state money for the University of South Carolina Beaufort made small gains -- moving it from last in the state to second from the bottom -- but it still remains well below the state average in funding.
College officials and local legislators hope to continue those gains and put an end to the funding disparity during the upcoming legislative session.
"We started working on this last year," state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, said. "We knew it would be a few years working on the funding disparity, because it would have been too big of a bite and too big of a fight to do all at one time last year."
During last fiscal year, the $1.4 million USCB got from the state was the lowest per-student funding for any of South Carolina's teaching-focused public universities. USCB got $940 per full-time South Carolina resident student, compared to the statewide average at the time of $2,487, according to University of South Carolina data.
During the 2013 legislative session, the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation asked on behalf of USCB for $2.2 million more from the state in the fiscal year that began in July. That amount would have brought the school up to the average.
But the amount they got fell short. The school ultimately received $1.2 million more. Although that gave the school almost $1,000 more per student during the current fiscal year, the amount is still about $900 per student below the state average.
This year, USCB gets $1,903 per student compared to the statewide average of $2,770, according to the USC finance office in Columbia.
Coastal Carolina, which gets $1,658, is now the only school below USCB. S.C. State University gets the most, $4,510. Other USC campuses -- USC Aiken, USC Upstate, for example -- also don't receive equal funding and want more money from the state.
"Why would students who go to USCB or USC Aiken and USC Upstate be worth less than kids that go to The Citadel or Francis Marion?" Herbkersman said. "It should be across-the-board equal."
Whether USCB continues to get more funding hinges largely on whether the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation can make the case during the upcoming session that begins Jan. 14, said Lynn McGee, USCB vice chancellor for advancement.
She said the college is asking for $1.2 million for the next fiscal year to bring it to the state average.
The funding gap occurred because the formula used to support state universities has not been recalculated since USCB became a four-year, baccalaureate-degree-granting institution in 2002, according to McGee.
"This final 'step up' for USCB would bring it to the equivalent funding of its peers," she said, "more than a decade after it moved to university status and awarded its first baccalaureate degree."
She said having this additional funding would allow the school to expand its academic programs, as well as bring in more faculty and staff to serve students.
"We are always trying to deepen everything we do for student success," McGee said. "But everything we do as a university is affected by the ability to fund those things on par with our peer universities."
The local legislative delegation is partnering with delegations in Aiken and the Upstate to strengthen their voice during the session. Herbkersman said he is confident they can close the funding gap this year.
"No one argues against it; it's just taken a long time to get on the table," he said. "But we put it together and ran hard with it last year and got done what we needed to do, so now we're just going to go in and clean it up this year."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.