Coastal Carolina University students could see another tuition hike this fall.
University leaders on Thursday said an increase may be necessary to deal with higher operating costs and stagnant state funding.
Officials have not determined how steep the hike would be, but they say it would likely impact both in-state and out-of-state students.
“A lot of students will be upset about it,” said Eliana Padron, the student body president. “But you know what? It’s something that most students should expect. It happens at other schools all the time. ... Do you want a world-class education or do you want something else?”
Coastal leaders insist they have few options because state lawmakers continue to limit spending on higher education.
Since 2008, state officials have slashed funding for public colleges and universities by more than $350 million. Although Coastal has seen a slight boost in state funding for two years, the gains fall far short of offsetting the $7.8 million in cuts the university saw between the 2008 and 2012 fiscal years. Overall, state support is down nearly 45 percent.
Coastal President David DeCenzo said a tuition increase could be avoided if lawmakers allocated more recurring funding for the school.
“There’s no other way to spin it,” he said. “It does affect it.”
But the S.C. House of Representatives’ latest budget projections do not include more money for Coastal. University leaders had asked for an additional $3 million. Recently, they have been talking to state senators, hoping to find success on that side of the General Assembly.
“All we can do is keep our fingers crossed,” DeCenzo said.
Last year, in-state undergrads saw a $140 per semester increase. Their out-of-state peers paid $335 more per semester.
Those hikes came after several years of Coastal officials holding the line on tuition.
William Biggs, a Coastal board member, said the years of flat tuition gave some lawmakers the false impression that the university didn’t need additional money.
“We’re being penalized for doing too good of a job,” he said.
DeCenzo also noted that there’s a misunderstanding in Columbia about the one-cent local sales tax that generates money for Coastal’s construction projects.
“There still is that perception that we get the penny sales tax, we don’t need any more money,” he said. “And I continue to educate them that the penny sales tax cannot be used for operations. ... It can only be used to build buildings.”
University administrators on Thursday asked the board of trustees to allow them to increase tuition up to the amount recommended by the S.C. Legislature.
But board members didn’t feel comfortable approving the blank request because lawmakers haven’t released their recommendation and Coastal staffers haven’t finalized their budget.
“I don’t mind an increase,” Biggs said. “But I don’t want the school to give me a 3.5 percent increase if all I need is 2. As a parent, we also want this to be a great value for the students.”
Biggs added that the lawmakers’ suggestion only applies to in-state tuition. However, he cautioned against severe hikes on out-of-state students.
“They don’t care how much we go up on out of state,” he said. “But on the other side of that, we can’t price ourselves out.”
Coastal administrators wanted the early approval on the tuition increase so they could announce the hikes as soon as the lawmakers’ recommendation arrives instead of waiting for the next board meeting.
Board members didn’t approve that request and instead decided to hold a special meeting to discuss tuition rates once the lawmakers have given their input.