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Why our state needs out-of-state students and the truth about tuition discounts

Out-of-state students (and the tuition discounts it takes to recruit them) increase opportunity for South Carolinians.

That statement may seem counterintuitive — but it’s true. You may have heard or read statements saying otherwise. They are wrong. It’s easier to point a finger at the nation’s fourth fastest-growing flagship university and deflect blame onto the University of South Carolina rather than have a meaningful discussion about how we are going to fix higher education funding in South Carolina.

Higher education can no longer depend on state funding

Yes, funding for higher education in South Carolina is broken, but out-of-state students are part of the solution, not the problem. To be clear, higher education in South Carolina can no longer depend on state funding to meet the needs of students. Sadly, it is now more accurate to say that public higher education in South Carolina is state assisted rather than state funded. Here are the facts:

  • Less than 10-percent of USC’s total budget comes from state appropriations.
  • From 2008 to 2012, South Carolina slashed state funding for higher education. Despite the economic recovery, state funding remains nearly 40-percent below 2008 levels. In fact, South Carolina colleges and universities continue to suffer from the fourth-largest cut to higher education funding in the country.

USC is educating more in-state residents than ever before

Some also have suggested that out-of-state students displace qualified South Carolinians from attending USC. Just the opposite is true. 

In fact, USC is educating more South Carolina students than at any other point in our history and accepts every qualified South Carolina applicant. As a general rule, if a South Carolina resident has an SAT score of 1,000 or higher and a 3.0 GPA, that student will be accepted into our freshman class or the Gamecock Gateway. Since 2008:

  • The number of undergraduate South Carolinians enrolled on the Columbia campus has grown by approximately 1,000 students with more than 14,730 enrolled this past fall.
  • Also, the number of undergraduate minority students on the Columbia campus has grown by nearly 1,750 students to more than 5,100 enrolled this past fall most of whom are from South Carolina.

It is worth noting that the growth in both South Carolinians and minority students is even more dramatic if you also include graduate students on the Columbia campus and the USC System as a whole.

Additionally, there is a false perception that tuition abatements for out-of-state students are the equivalent of a cash giveaway that could be used for other purposes. This is also not true.

An abatement is nothing more than a discount — pricing out-of-state tuition based on demand in a free market system that in turn allows us to control prices for South Carolinians. It is not a cash payment. Nor are schools “leaving money on the table.” Given the budget woes facing higher education in South Carolina, it would make no sense for us to do so.

We use tuition discounts for out-of-state students as a tool to help import talent into South Carolina, making our state stronger and more competitive. High- performing students like those who come to USC from out-of-state typically have many options when it comes time to decide where to attend school. Competition among universities is fierce and many institutions across the country offer tuition discounts to out-of-state students as they too seek to shore up their budgets. At USC, sixty (60) percent of non-resident students pay either the full out-of-state rate or a discounted rate that is still more than in-state tuition. These high-performing students can go anywhere in the country. If they don’t come here, we lose revenue and South Carolinians lose opportunity.

We’re proud of the fact that USC, now the fourth fastest-growing flagship university in the nation, has become a destination of choice for students from all across the country. 

Another sixteen (16) percent of non-resident students receive in-state tuition by law. We are required to provide it to military dependents and other categories of non-residents. In addition to those out-of-state students paying in-state rates because of legislative or policy requirements, twenty-three (23) percent of out-of-state students pay the in-state tuition rate because of scholarship achievement. These tend to be our top scholars — and those that most enhance the academic and research mission of the university. Even in these cases, we are not giving away cash or leaving money on the table. 

We’re proud of the fact that USC, now the fourth fastest-growing flagship university in the nation, has become a destination of choice for students from all across the country. It makes our campus a more diverse and vibrant place, where students from different cultures and backgrounds can share experiences with our resident students and become lifelong Gamecocks. The benefits extend far beyond our campus since these students and their families spend money in our community — more than $40 million a year is generated by out-of-state visitors to USC in area restaurants, hotels and retail establishments. The students themselves become nearly fulltime economic contributors while they’re in school. In fact, downtown Columbia has been transformed in recent years thanks, in large part, to the growth in out-of-state students.

Non-resident students are settling in South Carolina

More and more non-resident students are also finding South Carolina an attractive place to begin their careers and start families. They are doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, data analysts and entrepreneurs that serve our community and contribute to its tax base.  

Higher education is the key to South Carolina’s economic and overall prosperity. For every $1 invested in higher education, $25 is returned to our state’s economy. Four-year degree holders make, on average, $15,000 more per year and $1 million more over a lifetime than those without a baccalaureate degree. We know that our state needs 70,000 additional baccalaureate degree holders beyond current graduation rates by 2030 to meet the need of our growing knowledge economy and USC is committed to doing our part to meet that demand. But we need the help of state government to do so.

Change the conversation

No state can thrive without a strong higher education sector. Help us change the conversation with the General Assembly and help us fight to keep college affordable for South Carolinians. Find out more information and how to lend your voice to the cause.