A report documenting expenses for state agencies by the Comptroller General’s office shows some of South Carolina’s institutions of higher learning spent the most money on employee travel during the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year.
Nine of the top 25 state agencies reporting employee travel expenses are universities or technical colleges. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom says travel expenses have increased at higher education institutions in South Carolina by 6% over the previous year, where nearly $58 million was spent on employee travel.
“Where the big increase occurred, though, is in higher education spending,” he said. “Colleges and universities increased their spending at a higher rate than other state agencies.”
Clemson University and the University of South Carolina top the list of employee travel expenses released by Eckstrom. According to the report, Clemson spent $13.3 million in travel expenses, while the University of South Carolina spent $10.5 million.
Among the Clemson employees who recorded the most travel expenses, eight of the top ten, including the first two spots, were athletics coaches. University President James Clements was third in travel expenses.
Clemson University provided this statement:
“Several coaches are among the top travelers, and their travel expenses are paid by athletic revenues. Athletics travel is funded by self-generated athletic revenues, primarily from ticket sales, IPTAY contributions, ACC conference distributions, broadcast, television and internet rights, and scholarships. No State appropriations are used for Athletics travel.
The president’s travel is funded by self-generated University revenues. No State appropriations are used.
While much attention is given to the ‘sticker price’ of a college education, Clemson students, on the whole, pay far less than full tuition. South Carolina students pay on average about 34 cents on the dollar. This year, Clemson had the smallest percentage tuition increase for South Carolina resident students in two decades.”
Eckstrom’s office says, “the Travel Report reflects expenses regardless of the sources of the funds used, and the sources are not examined by this office or included in the report unless state entities address the matter in providing comments for the report.”
“What we’re seeing, unfortunately, is travel keeps going up and it’s no coincidence that tuition keeps going up, too,” Eckstrom said.
At the University of South Carolina, titles of the top ten employees were more diverse: the employee who reported the most travel expenses at USC was an associate dean. One athletics coach was in the top ten in expenditures.
But Eckstrom said the expenditures goe beyond athletics travel at the state’s major universities. Some of the state’s technical colleges that do not have athletics programs report high levels of travel expenses.
“There’s a lot of travel being done by technical colleges,” he said.
As for other state agencies, “Most of them aren’t traveling nearly as much,” he said.
Eckstrom said he’s not being critical of state agencies, but he provides the spending information to the public for transparency.
“I’m not questioning why these agencies are spending these dollars the way they are. But the citizens, the taxpayers of the state, have every reason to question them.”
But he suggests the agencies look closely at their budgets and see if they’re getting a good return on their travel expenses.
“I’m not passing judgement on any of them. I think that if . . . relationships like that show up, though the public aught to be asking the institutions in their area, ‘why you’re traveling like that?'”
The South Carolina Radio Network has reached out to both Clemson University and the University of South Carolina for a response to the report and has yet to hear back.