USCB continues to evaluate state freeze on campus construction

Administrators at the University of South Carolina Beaufort still are evaluating the impact of freezing campus construction projects, said Lynn McGee, the university's vice chancellor for advancement.

The state Budget and Control Board voted unanimously Sept. 29 to suspend building projects at colleges that have raised tuition above the national norm. The vote applies to more than a dozen colleges: four-year schools that have raised tuition for in-state students more than 7 percent and two-year schools where in-state tuition increased more than 6.3 percent.

USCB raised tuition by 9.5 percent this year.

McGee said university officials believe the school's situation is unique and should be an exception to the board's ruling. USCB has the lowest tuition rate among the state's public, four-year institutions and is the fastest-growing school in the USC system, McGee said Friday.

It also receives less state funding than other public universities, with just 6 cents of every dollar in the school's budget coming from the state, she said.

"To provide local access to state higher education to this historically under-served section of South Carolina, we have no choice but to raise our tuition to that of the next least expensive baccalaureate institution, given how little the state provides," she said.

The tuition hike brought USCB's tuition to $7,940 -- McGee said that's still $434 less than tuition at USC-Aiken, which has the next-lowest rate among the state's four-year universities.

McGee said most construction projects at USCB are funded locally, with help from Beaufort and Jasper counties or through private donations. They are not funded by tuition increases, she said.

With the exception of a $4 million maintenance facility and cooling tower provided by the state, McGee said all of the buildings on the $70 million Hilton Head Gateway Campus have been built with local money on donated land.

McGee said USCB has grown by 10 percent each year since it became an accredited baccalaureate institution in 2004, and the school needs more space to serve its growing population.

A previously approved plan to finish the second floor of the university's library by adding five classrooms, faculty offices and space for academic support could be jeopardized by the budget board's ruling.

She said USCB is now using all of its available classroom space, and faculty members are sharing offices.

"Failure to finish out this academic space will seriously inhibit USCB's growth and waste funds already invested in the project," McGee said.

The budget board has said colleges could get projects on track by dropping tuition below the inflation index next semester.

McGee said rolling USCB's tuition back to the allowed 7-percent increase would equal a revenue reduction of $300,000.

"At a relatively small institution like USCB, this reduction will have a major impact on students," she said. "We are analyzing the situation."

Some state colleges have rolled back spring semester tuition increases, among them Clemson University on Friday. Clemson cut its increase from 7.5 percent to 7 percent.

The Medical University of South Carolina's board last week pulled back its increase from 7.1 percent to 7 percent for the spring semester.

But the Board of Trustees at the College of Charleston, which had the largest percentage increase among the state's public schools -- 14.8 percent -- took no action on tuition at its final quarterly meeting of the year Friday.

The board didn't publicly discuss tuition or the moratorium at its meeting.

The Board of Visitors at The Citadel, which raised tuition 13 percent, also hasn't held a public discussion on the moratorium.

Diane Knich of the (Charleston) Post and Courier