Ways and Means Remarks - January 2014

Good morning. It’s a cold day but a great day to be a Gamecock! I’m pleased to be here and would like to recognize some of our Board of Trustee members who have joined us today: Chairman Gene Warr, Trustees William Hubbard, Wes Jones, Tony Lister, Thad Westbrook and Board Secretary Amy Stone.

Also joining us are our Campus Leaders: Drs. Susan Elkins (Palmetto College), Sandra Jordan (USC-Aiken), Tom Moore (USC-Upstate) and Lynn McGee (USC Beaufort).

I’m pleased to introduce Chase Mizzel who is our exceptional SGA president as well as Mic Man. He is also a TEDx participant and an entrepreneur who started Second Servings at USC and the app CloudShouts.

I began with, “It’s a great day to be a Gamecock!” I hope you feel the same. Even if you did not attend Carolina, I hope you share my pride in our state’s flagship institution. We do have the state’s name in our name and as we do better and better, the state's reputation increases as well. That’s why people throughout the state root for the University of South Carolina even if they may not root for our athletic teams.

What we do better, and do more than anyone, is provide a quality higher education to South Carolinians. In fact, 40-percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded at public institutions in South Carolina are conferred by USC. That’s almost double the degrees conferred by the next largest university.

More than 46,000 students are currently enrolled at USC campuses across the state. USC is the destination choice for so many students because we provide a superior student experience. But let me be clear – they don’t come to USC because we are large. We are large because we have become the school of choice for families throughout the state.

They also know that we are a globally recognized top-tier research university; the only one in the state. And that’s not our assessment, by the way, but the assessment of the Carnegie Foundation.

During the tumultuous recession years, Columbia’s freshman classes did more than grow — they also posted the highest average SAT scores in university history.

USC’s international business program continues to rank as the top in the nation. Our Honors College earned the nation’s first No. 1 ranking and in 2012, it received more than 2,000 applications for a class of 349.

Today, 47 academic programs at USC are ranked nationally by U.S. News and World Report. With a positive $4.1 billion annual economic impact, I know you agree that USC is also a vital part of South Carolina’s economic and overall wellbeing.

So, in spite of the recession, we are stronger than at any time in the University’s history. However, today, there is one area in which we are not stronger than we were at the recession’s start. You know what that is: affordability.

Consequently, this year, we are not asking [the Ways and Means Higher Education Subcommittee] for buildings, or new programs. We are not asking you to restore all the funds that have been cut. We are asking you, simply but strongly, for a Tuition Time Out. We are asking you to provide funding that is the equivalent to a modest three percent tuition increase for USC students across the system. And if you do, we’ll make certain that every South Carolinian who receives a tuition bill next year without an increase, understands that it was the South Carolina Higher Education Subcommittee and eventually others in state government that made the Tuition Time Out possible.

We’ll be able to tell them that this is the first time in our lifetime that tuition has remained unchanged. I asked my financial people to check back through ten years to see if there had ever been a year when tuition was unchanged. They went back 25 years and came back with a negative. This makes our proposal historic.

Our efforts to develop new models for college access and affordability are gaining recognition. For example, we’ve been invited to work with the Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing America’s success in higher education.

I am also proud to tell you that just six days ago, our Carolina Completion Initiative was an innovative higher education program that was highlighted at the White House Higher Education Summit. USC was recognized for offering flexible models to improve graduation rates among our Pell grant recipients, our neediest students. Other Universities participating at the summit included the University of Virginia, Harvard, University of North Carolina, MIT, Yale and Georgetown University – just to name a few.

Last year at this time, I appeared before this committee and called for an end to business as usual in higher education and right here, together, we started a movement. We proposed, and you supported, Palmetto College. Today, Palmetto College is providing hundreds of working South Carolinians an opportunity to complete their college degree with the quality of USC online. In its first semester, Palmetto College has already served students from 41 of the state’s 46 counties, with an average age of 34. We are currently enrolling new students for a second semester and will soon be rolling out a comprehensive marketing effort. This is positive, exciting news for the future of South Carolina and Palmetto College is gaining national recognition.

This subcommittee and eventually the General Assembly also embraced On Your Time graduation. As a result, our academic calendar has been reengineered and now provides greater flexibility for students who would like to graduate earlier. An early graduation keeps the total cost of college lower as students now take courses year round. We are expecting more and more USC students to graduate in less than four years. Business, the military, in fact, most professions don't take summer off, why should universities do so?

On Your Time graduation is also gaining national attention and I believe it is one of the reasons why our undergraduate applications are up again this year. To make On Your Time, even more accessible, we request statutory authorization via proviso to allow students the ability to utilize their lottery scholarships year round.

This will not increase the total amount of the scholarships; that will remain the same. Rather, it will give students the flexibility to use the scholarship monies on their time, including during a full summer term. Along with this authorization, it is apparent that a one-time appropriation of lottery dollars is necessary to bridge any cash flow issues associated with this transition.

The CHE has completed a favorable report on this proposition, and the Governor’s executive budget included both proviso language and one time funds to enable implementation. We request the committee’s consideration of this on behalf of all higher education institutions.

This past Monday the Wall Street Journal, in a report titled State Funding for Colleges Rebounds notes, “Spending by legislatures on colleges ticked up nearly 6% this fiscal year after four years of recession-related declines. The gains are uneven but widespread: 40 states saw upticks…”

Clearly, now is the time to build on our momentum and to do even more to increase access and affordability. Our state revenues are up and it is time to take a step toward reinvesting in Higher Education.

It is true that all higher education institutions weathered these tough economic times, but at USC we’ve actually thrived.

How do we do more with less? I would call it strategic efficiency – and our efficiency has been noted in many places — including U.S. News & World Report which ranks Carolina as one of the 15 most efficient universities in the country, even though we rank far lower in financial resources available. For example, institutional support, a surrogate term for administrative expenses, is less than 10 percent and compares favorably with other public SEC schools as well as the University’s peer and peer aspirant institutions.

In addition, Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine rank USC as one of the nation’s best values among public college and universities.

As our enrollment has increased across the USC system, total university expenditures have decreased by $1,000 per student—before adjusting for inflation. Even though USC’s FY2013 tuition increase of 3.13% was the lowest since 1999, we simply cannot keep raising tuition. It is not fair nor is it in the best interest of South Carolina’s hard-working families.

Today is a historic moment for the state’s flagship university and the state legislature. This is not business as usual.

That is why we are asking for this Tuition Timeout—a step toward accountability-based funding and fair funding. USC will freeze in-state undergraduate tuition and in exchange, we are asking the General Assembly to agree to appropriate funds equivalent to a three percent increase in tuition and cover any unfunded mandatory increases. ($10.1 million for the USC system in FY 15.) These mandatory increases may include: across-the-board state employee pay raises, increased health care coverage due to changes caused by the Affordable Health Care Act and/or retirement funding.

Working together, we can continue to create a positive change for South Carolina’s families.

While I am extremely proud of our Gamecock football season, including our No. 4 ranking in the AP College poll, and the many significant accomplishments achieved on all of our campuses, I am most proud of the 48,612 degrees that have been awarded across the USC system during my presidency.

A Tuition Time Out allows us to keep the momentum going and to strategically create a better funding model for our state’s higher education system.

It is a big step.

It is a historic step.

I propose that we take it together. Please support Tuition Time Out.

Thank you.