Horry-Georgetown Technical College students will see their tuition increase up to 3.9 percent this fall, a move school officials say is nominal but necessary to keep the doors open and program quality intact.
The Horry-Georgetown Technical College Commission approved the increase, which amounts to $5 per credit hour, at its board meeting Thursday after determining there was no alternative to the price hike.
The college is facing a financial crisis caused by a 30 percent cut in state funding that may be further exacerbated by a 15 percent cut in this year's budget.
"Our ability to continue to absorb state budget cuts and still meet our mission, we've run out of room, and we have no recourse," HGTC President Neyle Wilson told the commission, "and the state, they're predicting 2011-12 will make 2010-11 look like a walk in the park."
Harold Hawley, the school's vice president of business affairs, said the increase is "keeping pace with the cost of inflation. It will not exceed that."
"We're 13th [in affordability] out of 16 technical colleges in the state, and 12 others are higher than ours," Hawley said. "We're very proud of the job we have done in this economic climate at controlling costs."
He said even with the increase, HGTC will stay about 13th among other technical colleges.
"There are price increases going up at virtually all of them; ours is one of the least," Hawley said.
He said HGTC's increase would come to $60 per semester for a full-time, in-county (Horry and Georgetown) student, and that some schools are being forced to raise tuition by more than $200 per semester.
HGTC is not the only Horry County college battling the budget.
Coastal Carolina University approved a tuition increase in February, 4.91 percent for in-state students and 8 percent for out-of-state students, along with slight increases in housing and meal plan costs, and the closing of its Georgetown facility.
"Like it or not, this is the direction that the state's going," Wilson said of the budget cuts. "We're trying to creep and are hoping things will get better."
Hawley said the tuition increase should not be an undue burden, given that 83 percent of HGTC students get some form of free financial aid, such as the Pell grant and the $900 lottery, for which every South Carolinian is eligible. He said 50 percent have out-of-pocket costs paid for and go to the school for free.
Hawley said there are other forms of aid other than free aid, including loans, , scholarships and grants.
"Free aid has increased this year," Hawley said. "The financial aid they have now is more than they've ever had, so students will net more money for college than ever before."
The commission also said yes to modifying its student fee structure, which went hand-in-hand with the tuition increase.
One fee was added, a $25 enrollment fee, which is assessed to every student each semester, according to Greg Thompson, vice president for student affairs and campus life. He said it is an incentive-based fee that students can avoid if they register and either pay or confirm their financial aid by the appropriate deadline.
Other changes include standardizing the application fee to $30. Thompson said there had been a range from $20 to $40 previously.
The student activity fee will rise from the current $1.50 per credit hour up to a maximum of $18, to $2 per credit hour up to a maximum of $24. Thompson said the fee is earmarked for opportunities outside of the classroom, such as cultural activities and clubs and that the adjustment also will help standardize the accounting process.
"We're trying to simplify as much as possible all of our fees," Thompson said.
Going by the wayside is the $25 graduation fee, an excuse students might use for not going through the administrative process for graduation.
"There are some students that just assume, 'I went to classes, so I'm a graduate.' Our hope is those students proactively apply for graduation to be counted as a legitimate graduate," Thompson said.