This week is the First Week of School, a time to reflect on the high cost of school at all levels but especially of public colleges and universities. Let’s look at in-state tuition at Clemson and the University of South Carolina.
With only Winthrop University higher in cost among state public higher education institutions, Clemson in-state students are facing a 1.75 percent tuition increase for 2018. USC also raised in-state tuition, by 2.9 percent. All of this is in spite of increased state support; Clemson, for example, received an additional $12.7 million from the state Legislature this year. Why, then, is tuition continuing to rise, not only in South Carolina but nationwide?
It’s not because of increased faculty salaries. For example, the state of Georgia had a zero percent rise in faculty pay again this year, and that unfortunately is not unusual. The point isn’t to convince you that college professors are underpaid, but just to point out this isn’t a teacher salary problem. Here are two recommended changes to reduce higher education costs.
First, although SC higher education funding is up somewhat this year, we need to continue making up for the 25-year 50%-60% decline in per-student state support. Our SC students now leave school with an average student loan debt of just over $30,000, the 14thhighest in the nation; this is particularly bad when you consider that South Carolina rates 43rdin average income. The ratio of student debt to average income is described as the worst in the nation.
Second, state government needs to ensure that public colleges and universities maintain a balance between administration and instruction. Over that same 25-year period the numbers of administrators per faculty member and per student has risen hugely. Colleges are becoming victims of a business model that calls for more middle management paid for with tuition funding, managers remote from the actual teaching that goes on in the university’s classrooms.
Whether you are a parent or a student and on a budget, or just a taxpayer demanding reform, you have a role to play in reversing the trend toward ever-higher college tuition at our public universities. Attend your state legislative delegations’ “Town Halls” this election year. Ask questions about rising tuition, what they know about it, and how they plan to address it if elected. If they are running for reelection, ask why they didn’t address this last term and what they propose to do differently this term.
It’s a political year, and that means that voters have clout. Use that clout to fix our roads and bridges, to upgrade K-12 education, and to ensure fiscal solvency. But also use that clout to ensure our elected officials start reversing the rise of higher education tuition and rising student debt, and reverse the decline in financial ability of many of our families even to consider college for their children. It’s important!