S.C. Gov. Sanford, college officials clash on tuition, building projects

It was supposed to be a summit, the beginning of an extended discussion on what could be done to arrest the trend of steadily increasing tuition rates at colleges and universities in South Carolina.

Instead, Tuesday's gathering of legislators and college officials, put together by Gov. Mark Sanford and held at a packed auditorium on the Airport campus of Midlands Technical College, merely underscored the starkly different views of what has happened in higher education over the past decade.

The governor and college officials disagreed on the fundamental question of whether the state has increased or decreased funding to colleges and universities.

Sanford, who has argued that higher education in South Carolina is too costly and inefficient, argued that funding for higher education has actually increased if state-funded lottery scholarship money is factored into the equation. College officials, smarting over insinuations that they have allowed administrative salaries to balloon and that they have moved forward with costly construction projects even in the midst of the current economic downturn, said lottery funding should not be included because it goes to students, not schools. They also pointed out that if the governor wants to count lottery scholarship money as state funding for higher education, the tuition rates he puts forward should be decreased because that's how the scholarship money is used.

Those dueling arguments aren't esoteric points to be examined in a high-level economics class. They could play a role in whether members of the State Budget and Control Board vote today to impose a moratorium on all building projects at public colleges and universities.

College officials say such a moratorium, which is backed by Sanford, one of the five voting members of the board, would be an unwise step in a state still starving for jobs.

"If it were a blanket moratorium on all projects, it would be devastating to the university," said William T. Moore, vice president for finance and planning at the University of South Carolina.

Moore estimated that a building moratorium at USC would cost the state 4,800 jobs. And that's just through a halt to projects at USC, Moore said.

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