Legislation which would temporarily freeze college tuition increases was reviewed before a Senate committee this week.
“Answer that fundamental question: what is it that we want from our system of higher education in our state?” South Carolina Commission on Higher Education executive director Jeff Schilz testified before the Senate Joint Education and Finance Study Committee on Wednesday.
The proposed bill drafted by State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, would establish a $125 million trust fund which would increase college funding as an incentive for them to enroll more in-state students. The trust fund would use newly-projected revenue from applying the state’s sales tax to online sales.
Colleges would be required not to raise tuition for a year and keep increases at no more than 2.75 percent each year after that. South Carolina currently encourages colleges to cap tuition growth at no more than 3 percent annually.
“South Carolina has the highest tuition rates at our four-years institutions of any state in the Southeast,” Sheheen, who serves as the committee’s co-chair, said. “And, last time I checked, the seventh-highest in America.”
The state Department of Revenue has begun collecting sales taxes from online sales, buoyed by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision which ruled states are within their authority to do so. State higher education funding would also increase from the state’s General Fund at the same rate as the state budget itself increases.
Colleges have complained that state lawmakers have slashed funding since the 2008 recession, with the total set aside for colleges still not returned to last decade’s funding levels.
The committee meets again next Tuesday.