- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The chairman of the House budget-writing committee is looking to hire a national consultant to evaluate spending by South Carolina’s public colleges and find savings that can reduce tuition.

Ways and Means Chairman Brian White says tuition costs are climbing too high. He’s made reining them in a priority.

A subcommittee that handles state spending on colleges heard Tuesday from financial consulting firm Deloitte. It expects to hear from at least two other national firms in the coming weeks.

Deloitte director Rick Ferraro said a review could cost the state several million dollars, depending on the contract’s specifications, but the expected savings could be many times that.

“It’s a reverse way of looking at funding. It’s creating funding rather than allocating it,” said Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Mount Pleasant, the subcommittee’s chairman. “It’s easier to save a dollar than make it.”

Tuition at South Carolina’s public colleges, on average, ranks the highest in the Southeast. College officials blame less revenue from the state budget, and point to lottery-backed scholarships that reduce out-of-pocket expenses for in-state students.

On average, tuition at the state’s 13 public four-year colleges has increased by 17 percent over the past five years, and the state ranks 19th nationwide in college debt, with 55 percent of the Class of 2012 graduating with debt, according to the budget committee.

Rep. Garry Smith, R-Simpsonville, said he doesn’t believe colleges’ complaint about revenue: “I think it’s an expenses issue,” he said, adding he’s especially concerned that tuition continued to climb amid the Great Recession, putting costs above students’ reach.

University of South Carolina spokesman Wes Hickman noted the state’s flagship university is ahead of the House’s effort. Its board commissioned a cost-savings study of its eight-campus system several years ago from Huron, a Deloitte competitor that is likely to also make a presentation to the subcommittee. The university is still implementing some recommendations, Hickman said, pointing to its efficiency ranking last month by the U.S. News & World Report.

Clemson University ranked within the top 10 of most efficient national universities, based on spending per student, while the University of South Carolina ranked in the top 15.

“As a testament to our efficiency, we currently spend $1,000 less per student than we did in 2008 - all while boosting our enrollment, achieving record SAT scores and bolstering USC’s status as a destination of choice,” Hickman said.

Deloitte’s Ferraro said a statewide assessment could take six months. He added that savings can be achieved without laying people off through bulk purchasing, centralizing of technology infrastructure, class scheduling and other efficiencies. In fact, the savings occur faster, as opposed to paying someone a severance package that could mean no savings for more than a year, he said.

“Procurement is immediate and doesn’t touch people,” he said.



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