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SC budget board suspends college construction

By Seanna Adcox
Associated Press Writer / September 30, 2010

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COLUMBIA, S.C.—State lawmakers put construction projects at some South Carolina public colleges on hold Wednesday as a way to force them to lower tuition costs.

The state Budget and Control Board voted unanimously to suspend capital projects at colleges that have raised tuition costs above the national norm. The vote applies to more than a dozen colleges: four-year colleges that have raised tuition for in-state students more than 7 percent, and to two-year schools where in-state tuition increased more than 6.3 percent -- rates set in the Higher Education Price Index.

State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, a budget board member, said he wanted to send colleges a message that "families are hurting. People are losing their homes and have lost their jobs" and can no longer afford to fund their children's college education.

Treasurer Converse Chellis said he understood lawmakers' attempt to force colleges to cut costs, but he worried about killing construction jobs in a state suffering with high unemployment.

The board exempted projects funded through private donations. Colleges could get projects on track by promising to drop tuition below the inflation index next semester. Leatherman said that could happen at any time, so the vote doesn't have to stop projects.

The colleges affected include Clemson University. The biggest tuition jump was at the College of Charleston, where costs increased by $1,326.

According to the Commission on Higher Education, tuition rates at four-year public colleges have risen between 4.4 percent and 14.8 percent this year compared to last, and between 2.2 percent and 12.7 percent at two-year schools.

The meeting comes a day after Gov. Mark Sanford's higher education summit. Though it was supposed to jump-start discussions on how to make college more affordable, even Sanford, who serves as the budget board chairman, acknowledged little was accomplished. College officials and Sanford couldn't even agree on basic revenue and spending numbers.

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