In light of the recent trend among South Carolina colleges and universities to solve budgeting challenges by raising tuition costs on students, Gov. Mark Sanford today issued the following statement and proposal:
"Given that it's becoming increasingly clear to lawmakers across the political spectrum that our state's colleges and universities are asking too great a price of students, their parents and taxpayers in general, I think now is the time to address the problem head-on. We were glad to see that Senator Hugh Leatherman -- with whom this administration has often debated on a whole host of spending issues -- has now publicly agreed with what we've been saying for several years: that there's something fundamentally wrong when the price of a college education at taxpayer-supported institutions grows at double-digit rates, all while our colleges and universities are embarking on expensive capital construction projects and massive new facility improvements.
"This year alone, we've seen the College of Charleston raise tuition by 15 percent, The Citadel by 13 percent, Clemson and USC by 7 percent, and MUSC by 9 percent. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Higher ed tuition rates in South Carolina have been rising at a discouraging clip for the last decade. For example, at Clemson we've seen tuition triple over the last decade - from $3,590 in 2000 to $11,908 today. Unfortunately, most South Carolinians' income hasn't tripled since 2000. And thanks to these kinds of hikes, South Carolina's in-state tuition is now the highest in the Southeast and roughly double that of Georgia and North Carolina.
"This is grossly unfair to South Carolina parents trying to make ends meet in a tough economy and hoping to send their children to one of the institutions their tax dollars have supported for years. The tragedy is compounded, moreover, by the fact that our state's higher education institutions have spent at least $730 million on capital improvements over just the last three years, including dubious projects like USC's still floundering Innovista campus in Columbia. Not only that - but private donations to many of these universities over the past year are actually up, with the Medical University of South Carolina solicited a record high $77 million and the University of South Carolina taking in a record $117 million.
"Over the last several years, our office has proposed a number of ways to address this problem. Instituting a statewide Board of Regents would provide a measure of oversight and statewide coordination currently lacking in our state's higher education system. I'd also suggest the General Assembly revisit the idea of tuition caps -- something we've consistently pushed in past Executive Budgets -- because it needs to be remembered that taxpayer-funded institutions don't have an inherent right to raise the price of their product as high as they want.
"In the short term, and in light of Senator Leatherman's recent statements, I'd call on every member of the Budget and Control Board to pass a moratorium on state colleges and universities undertaking capital improvements. In these tough economic times, and with tuition at stratospheric levels, calling a "time out' on pricey new buildings at the state's higher education institutions will do three things: allow schools to focus more funds on classroom instruction, better protect the taxpayer, and finally make the college dream of so many young South Carolinians out there indeed more achievable."