USC Upstate officials seek change in state funding formula

January 9, 2013 at 8:46 am
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 8:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 8:26 p.m.

With a rallying cry of fairness, University of South Carolina officials are trying to wrangle legislative support for increased funding in the coming year.

On Tuesday, USC President Harris Pastides called for legislators from Spartanburg, Aiken and Beaufort to create a “band of brothers and sisters” and fight to restore “sanity” to higher education funding in the state.

The crux of the insanity, Pastides said, is dramatic discrepancies in per student funding among institutions in similar classes. Of utmost concern to the USC system is the state’s 10 “teaching sector” institutions, which include USC Upstate, USC Aiken and USC Beaufort.

In fiscal year 2012, the average per pupil state funding for the teaching sector institutions was $2,487, but on either side of the average are dramatic highs and lows – USC Beaufort received only $940 per student, while The Citadel received $4,304 per student. USC Aiken was awarded $2,297 per student and USC Upstate received $1,701.

When the economy faltered, the legislature froze allocations to the institutions. During the recession, some institutions saw an explosion in the number of students, causing their ratio of dollars to student to decline, other institutions saw their enrollment hold steady or decrease, resulting in the current unevenness, Pastides said.

However unintentional, the result is “fundamentally unfair,” he said. “Unless someone can stand up and tell me they aren’t doing as good of a job, they have the same cost of all of their peer universities.”

USC Upstate was one of the institutions where enrollment soared. The school expanded to meet the increased demands on static funding, but the situation is unsustainable, Chancellor Tom Moore said.

“We can’t maintain the quality on the backs of people who have supported us with their dedication,” he said.

Further growth is near impossible from the current financially tenuous position, he added.

“We are critical to the economy and way of life across the Upstate. We are horrifically underfunded. We need money.”

There are five institutions that receive more than the average per student funding, and five that receive less, but the answer isn’t robbing Peter to pay Paul, Pastides said. Instead, he is asking for $8.3 million in new money for higher education to be dispersed among the lower funded schools to bring them to the average per student allocation.

In the coming weeks, Pastides said officials would be contacting the delegations to find out if the step toward parity is a battle legislators can stomach.

“If it’s worth taking it on, whether we win or lose, we’re willing to take it on,” he said. “But not at the expense of our brothers and sisters at other universities who are doing a good job. We think that’s not right, and second, that’s not winning.”

Rep. Rita Allison, R-Lyman, encouraged USC officials to make gaining ground on parity funding their leading priority in the coming year, and Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on higher education, said he would back the push.

“The appetite for parity funding is there,” Allison said. “How we get there will be the difficult side.”

Legislators said healthcare and road maintenance will dominate budget discussions and will pose a challenge for all other funding requests.

With unity, Rep. Eddie Tallon, R-Spartanburg, said he was hopeful for some movement.

“We can do something with these delegations getting together,” he said.