State of the University: 'Great things lie ahead'
Despite some of the steepest funding cuts experienced by any university in the country, the University of South Carolina is strong, focused and determined not to allow circumstances to define its future, USC President Harris Pastides said Wednesday (Oct. 27) in his State of the University address.
“Our university has been stretched, pushed, tugged on and tested in so many ways this past year, and while I don’t expect that to change any time soon, I am confident that we are more ready, more resilient and more resourceful than at any time in our past,” Pastides said. “I am confident that great things lie ahead.”
Pastides, who is starting his third year as USC’s president, spoke to the university’s faculty, staff and students in the School of Law auditorium, updating them on a year that has seen deep cuts in funding but huge accomplishments in the classrooms, research labs, fund raising efforts and on athletic fields.
He pointed to the university’s many highlights of the past year. Among them:
Welcoming a record number of freshmen in Columbia and throughout the system. Nearly half of the baccalaureate and graduate degrees in the state are earned at USC.
A contribution of more than 350,000 volunteer hours and nearly $1.5 million in donations to community organizations by the university family, including raising money to support those harmed by the Haiti earthquake and to support the Children’s Hospital in Columbia.
Private contributions of more than $117 million, including $30 million from graduates Bill and Lou Kennedy of Florida to create the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center.
The university’s contributions to the state’s economic development, including at Innovista, the university’s innovation district where research, entrepreneurship and job creation come together. Since 2000, the university’s technology incubator has graduated 27 companies with 720 new jobs, and there are dozens more companies in the pipeline. In the coming years, the Darla Moore School of Business will move to its new home in the heart of Innovista.
A record year in research funding, placing USC in the highest tier of research universities in the country. Those figures are validated by the National Research Council’s recently released study of graduate programs in humanities and sciences, which found several highly ranked programs at USC, including the state’s top rated graduate programs for engineering, and high marks for English, biology and geography.
Pastides also spoke of the university’s commitment to the state and its role in community outreach, particularly in the area of health disparities among South Carolinians. The Arnold School of Public Health this year received a $6.7 million five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to further develop efforts in studying cancer and other health disparities.
The university’s commitment to address health disparities is evident in its plan to increase the size of the medical school. Earlier this year, the boards of USC and Greenville Hospital System approved plans to move forward in establishing a campus of the USC School of Medicine in Greenville to train more doctors. No state funding will be used in the budget model for the program, Pastides said.
“Having devoted my career not only to higher education but also to public health, I can tell you that the most cost-effective thing to do is to put more primary-care doctors, as part of teams that include nurses and other health professionals, in the underserved areas of our state,” Pastides said.
His talk was accented with video clips from university students, alumni, faculty, staff and researchers, who spoke about the university’s accomplishments in the past year. Among those were Kelly Truesdale, a recent Moore School IMBA graduate, and Dr. Ralph Riley. Truesdale is the chief operating officer of SysEDA, a new start-up company that uses intellectual property developed in the College of Engineering and Computing with the expertise of the Moore School. Riley, a physician practicing family medicine in Saluda, has witnessed the face of health disparities in rural parts of the state.
Looking ahead, Pastides predicted the next year would be “a vexing one for every one of our campuses, from Allendale to Union, and every one in between.”
Some common ground was found at a recent higher education summit called by Gov. Mark Sanford, but there was also disagreement on points about higher education funding, Pastides said.
“We used facts front and center, as we always will, but we will also need to use the art of advocacy,” Pastides said. “The fact is that economists are projecting an additional $20 million to $25 million cut for USC in the next fiscal year in addition to the $110 million taken away over the past two years.”
He said he expects the next political season to bring calls for tuition caps and limits on out-of-state enrollment, and there has already been a limited moratorium on campus construction -- even though nearly every dollar spent on construction is not state allocated or tuition based, he said.
Pastides said the university’s administration and Board of Trustees “have never been reckless or wanton in setting its tuition rates. We have been and always will be compassionate and businesslike in setting the cost of the high quality product we deliver.”
He said the university would love nothing more than to have the cuts of the past two years restored, allowing the university to roll back tuition increases to match the rate of inflation.
“But the reality is that the direct annual costs of a college education are in the neighborhood of $16,000 to $17,000 per student – and that has to come through some combination of tuition and state funding. It’s the same at every public university in America.”
He said the university system remains committed to educating every applicant from South Carolina who meets the university’s admissions standards, along with a good mix of out-of-state and international students. The combination allows USC to serve its students and the state’s global future.
“As a university system, we have never before been educating so many South Carolinians, and our goal is to further increase access to higher education in this state,” he said. “Access and affordability are the watchwords of our commitment.”