From The State

State colleges and universities looking to freeze tuition for in-state students won’t receive as much as they hoped for under a

House budget plan being debated this week. House budget writers only approved $57.5 million for tuition mitigation for colleges and universities as part of a $13.2 billion spending plan under debate this week.

The state’s colleges and universities, along with technical colleges collectively asked for $128 million. Last year, budget writers gave colleges and universities gave $1.1 billion in annual dollars, which included an additional $124 million for tuition mitigation.

Tuition mitigation is used to in order to freeze tuition rates for in-state students at public colleges a universities. This is the sixth straight year budget writers have included money to freeze college tuition. The mitigation money allows schools to keep up with the cost to run their operations without raising tuition on students.

If schools take the tuition mitigation money, they have to freeze tuition for the upcoming year. The House budget plan is more in line with what Gov. Henry McMaster proposed in his executive budget when he suggested schools receive $49.8 million, using a higher education public index, an index his office has used for several years.

Part of the limitation comes from having less new annual dollars to allocate than in recent years.

Lawmakers only have $662 million available, and millions is eaten up by raises for teachers, state employees, state health insurance premiums and increased Medicaid costs. Budget writers had choose among $1.7 billion in annual requests.

“I hope they’ll honor their commitment and not raise tuition,” said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, who oversees higher education spending on the Ways and Means Committee. “I feel confident that they won’t do that. So I’m more concerned about the research universities. The funding that we gave them, if you look look at their requests versus what they got. I know there’s needs and there’s wants but there’s a lot of needs there that we still couldn’t meet.”

Ballentine added during the House debate that budget writers were able to give universities what they could with the limited dollars available.

“I thought this job was going to be a fun job. It’s not a fun job. I say ‘no’ way more than I say ‘yes,’ ” Ballentine said. “We’ll see how next year looks, but we’re in good fiscal shape.”

Much of the universities’ requests were in line with the increases they received during last year’s budget process.

The money set aside for tuition mitigation was distributed based on in-state student population.

The budget still needs to go to the Senate and be signed off by the governor.

The University of South Carolina system collectively requested $38.8 million for tuition mitigation. House budget writers proposed $21.6 million.

“We’re grateful that both the Governor and the House Ways and Means Committee recognize the importance of the tuition mitigation program, which has played an essential role in keeping tuition affordable for South Carolina students,” said U.S.C. spokesman Jeff Stensland. “USC is now entering its sixth year without raising tuition prices for South Carolinians. This is a process; and we’re optimistic that members of House and the Senate will continue to prioritize college affordability.”

Clemson University requested $21.1 million for tuition mitigation in this year’s budget process. House Budget writers included $10.2 million.

“This is just the beginning of the budget process,” said Clemson Director of Communications Alex Brooks in an email to The State. “We look forward to continued collaboration with our partners in the legislature in the coming weeks.”

House budget writers did not include any money for tuition mitigation dollars for the technical colleges, but want to send more money through other avenues.

Technical colleges would receive $95 million for SC WINS scholarships, $5 million for SC Ready through the lottery, and $30 million for training in high demand areas, under the House budget proposal.

“We’re going back to sort of normal budget levels and with the requests, this actually ends up being a pretty tight budget year,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville.

However, members of the ultra conservative Freedom Caucus wanted to almost eliminate all of the money proposed for tuition mitigation.

The Freedom Caucus proposed taking out $54 million proposed for tuition mitigation and use $50 million toward increased dollars for bridge repairs.

“The big schools already get hundreds of millions in tax dollars,” said state Rep. Jordan Pace, R-Berkeley. “Blue collar workers shouldn’t be further subsidizing liberal arts bachelors degrees when we have (more than) 500 bridges in dangerous disrepair.”

The House budget does include $200 million for bridge repairs, which is the amount requested by the Department of Transportation.

Pace said if USC’s Columbia, Upstate and Beaufort campuses, along with Clemson, College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina, Francis Marion, Lander, Winthrop and the Medical University of South Carolina, did not receive tuition mitigation money this year, then 25% more bridges could be addressed.

“It’s a matter of priorities,” Pace said.

Ballentine argued the state is still behind neighboring states in providing money to public universities and years ago funding to state universities was cut.

“I would present that we are catching up,” Ballentine said. “We are way behind in funding higher education.”