USCB chancellor urges lawmakers to fix funding inequity

USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw
USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw

University of South Carolina Beaufort Chancellor Jane Upshaw appeared before a state House subcommittee Wednesday to urge lawmakers to fix funding inequities among state universities.

The $1.4 million USCB received from the state this fiscal year is the lowest per-student funding for any of South Carolina's teaching-focused public universities.

USCB gets $940 per full-time state-resident student compared to an average of $2,487 at the 10 public teaching-sector universities in South Carolina, according to USC data.

The only institute with funding near USCB's is USC Upstate in Spartanburg, which gets $1,701 per student.

Average spending by the state to support the education of full-time South Carolina students at the state's private universities is $2,351.

USCB leaders say the formula used by the state 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.

The school went from 680 full-time students in 2002 to 1,547 in 2012, according to USCB vice chancellor Lynn McGee.

Upshaw asked the committee to support a request for $8.3 million in next year's state budget for the USC system to bring spending to the statewide average.

"USCB students, parents and local citizens are being shorted $2.2 million each year," according to a USC statement released before the committee hearing.

"These institutions are critical to building a highly skilled, professional workforce for the future of our state," Upshaw said after the meeting. "USC Beaufort serves a four-county region with no other access to public or private baccalaureate education. At the same time, these three universities have seen dramatic growth."

Ninety percent of the students served by USCB are South Carolina residents or students whose receive in-state tuition due to legislative mandate, such as military personnel and their spouses.

"We are simply asking for a level playing field," she said.

Without the $8.3 million infusion -- $2.24 million of which would go to USCB -- the colleges will fall behind in developing academic programs needed to support new industries in the state, including education, health care and technology. "These missed opportunities will affect the economic future and the quality of life of all citizens, not just USCB students," Upshaw said.

Accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools could also be in jeopardy, she noted.

"At current funding levels, services to students will be severely impacted in the future," she said.

State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, said he is confident USCB will get some of the additional money next year, but maybe not all.

"I bet we'll get something done on that this year, because we have more people involved," he said Wednesday.

Herbkersman sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which influences how state money is allocated. Upshaw's comments were before the Ways and Means Higher Education Subcommittee.

"I'm not sure the legislature will approve the full $8.3 million, but I think USCB will be well on its way toward parity of the average," Herbkersman said.

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