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Leaders brace for cuts, possible tuition hikes

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
MUSC students may have to dig deeper in their pockets this fall as the campus anticipates approval of a balanced budget draft recommending cuts that will affect MUSC and other state institutions. The cuts could translate into possible tuition hikes for students beginning in Fall 2008. News of such an increase was addressed by student leaders and administrators during the Feb. 7 MUSC Board of Trustees meeting giving students advanced notice for planning and financial aid support.
For the last seven years, MUSC students and students at other state institutions have felt the pinch and burden resulting from diminishing discretionary state appropriations in higher education. For students, the proposal translates to as much as a 10 percent across-the-board tuition increase. What’s been challenging for MUSC officials is determining an accurate tuition increase based on reduced dollars prior to the General Assembly’s final approval of the state budget, which is scheduled in May.
The cuts are expected to raise tuition among all six of MUSC’s health-science colleges. It will hit hardest in the College of Dental Medicine, which is expected to raise tuition between 14 percent and 19 percent.
The purchasing power of state appropriations has steadily dwindled academic support. Meanwhile, campus leaders have asked faculty and staff to work harder, be more productive, share resources and bring in additional sources of extramural funding to help offset state budget cuts.
The solution isn’t always looking at higher tuition costs, according to John R. Raymond, M.D., vice president for academic affairs and provost.
“We can’t fully recoup on a reduction to the state budget nor should we,” said Raymond. “We want to let students know that we asked the MUSC board to act early regarding tuition increases so that students and families can plan ahead and submit their financial aid applications early. It’s important that we, as an institution, recognize each student’s lifetime debt accumulation and find ways to lessen that burden, and provide a solution to the unpredictability of what will happen to student tuition in the years to come.”
Since 1991, the College of Dental Medicine faculty and students have been challenged again with raising tuition beyond the proposed 10 percent to help balance the dental school’s budget with the medical school. The greater burden focuses on how the dental school can maintain operating out of an older facility with chronic maintenance issues while training and preparing the state’s future dentists. Dental Medicine Dean John J. Sanders, DDS, assures students that none of the tuition increase is slated for the construction of the new James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine Clinical Education Center, or any other new construction on campus. Sanders’ current priority is finding ways to keep tuition increases at his college to a minimum.
“We are raising tuition to help meet the needs of the dental school,” said Sanders. “Matching our dental tuition with the medical school’s tuition and fees is certainly not an end of itself. It is, however, a useful benchmark. On average, the cost of a dental education is 125 percent of a medical education. At the present time, we are under the cost of medical tuition, but when you add fees the total exceeds the medical tuition. Yet with all these budget challenges, MUSC manages to be below average compared to other dental schools across the country.”
Typically, the institution would not announce plans for a proposed tuition increase until August when the budget has been passed and approved by the university’s Board of Trustees. The idea to address these issues early was to assist students in budget planning and as a response to their overall concerns.
Raymond hopes that as the state’s economy improves, so will overall state appropriations to MUSC and other higher education institutions. Only 3 percent of MUSC’s overall revenues come from tuition. This is vastly different from other statewide institutions including the University of South Carolina and Clemson University, which both operate on a larger student base. In 2007, MUSC’s tuition base hit $40 million, so a 10 percent tuition increase will only net $4 million, Raymond said. This fact places stress on the institution since approximately 7 percent of overall enterprise revenues come from state appro-priations, he added.
In South Carolina, tuition increases for undergraduate students can be largely funded by state tuition dollars from the S.C. Commission on Higher Educations’ Palmetto Fellows, Life and Hope scholarships that support undergraduate education. Most MUSC students are not eligible for these programs.
“As an academic health center, MUSC is unique compared to other statewide comprehensive colleges and universities,” Raymond said. “This institution has seen annual tuition increases since 1999. We’re seeing a gloomy economic forecast with a projected state budget deficit by late May and a constitutional requirement that the state not spend any more money than it brings in. They’ve cut corners and reduced budgets somewhere, and that was in higher education.”
Within the past year, MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., and other university leaders have worked closely with the S.C. Legislature to help legislators understand MUSC’s unique funding situation. But due to the state’s poor economic forecast, no one’s sure how state government will support the institution in 2008 and beyond.
“For the last several years, students have anticipated a proposed increase due to disproportionate funding from state funds in higher education,” said Michael Drake, MUSC Student Govern-ment Association president, who spoke to the board about student tuition hikes and student debt concerns. “We realize this to be the tip of the iceberg as it relates to MUSC and other institutions. When tuition essentially doubles, it prompts drastic changes in planning and preparation for students and their families. We appreciate what MUSC leaders and administration have done to communicate these anticipated changes and stand ready to work with them in communicating our concerns with members of the state legislature.”
Raymond said MUSC remains committed to maintaining academic quality.
“Our institution aspires toward excellence in everything that we do. We expect our students and faculty to perform at the highest levels every day, and that requires a financial investment to build the infrastructure to support that level of excellence,” Raymond said.

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Friday, Feb. 29, 2008
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