SC colleges assessing construction moratorium

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COLUMBIA— Officials at South Carolina's public colleges are trying to figure out how a moratorium on construction projects will affect their campuses.

The uncertainty comes after the state Budget and Control Board voted unanimously this week to suspend building at some colleges as a way to force them to cut tuition. The order applies to four-year schools that raised in-state tuition more than 7 percent and two-year schools where tuition increased more than 6.3 percent — inflation rates tied to the Higher Education Price Index.

The board exempted projects funded solely by private donations, those for maintenance, such as leaky roofs, and safety improvements.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, one of five budget board members, had warned colleges not to hike their tuition too much amid the recession. When many did anyway — including double-digit increases at two Charleston colleges — he made known he was serious.

The Citadel, where tuition increased 13 percent, has no construction projects planned. The College of Charleston enacted the biggest hike at nearly 15 percent.

"It seems as if colleges and universities didn't pay much attention," Leatherman, R-Florence, said at Wednesday's meeting as he proposed the moratorium. He said he wanted to "let them know families are hurting. People are losing their homes and have lost their jobs" and are being priced out of an education.

University of South Carolina officials told The State newspaper that construction on an $8 million classroom building at USC-Lancaster may have to stop. It was among four of USC's two-year regional campuses where tuition rose 6.5 percent, just above the moratorium cap. USC-Beaufort is above the cap for four-year schools, at 9.5 percent.

Clemson University's board of trustees met Thursday to discuss the ramifications, but no action was taken. The board is scheduled to meet again in two weeks.

Projects under way at the school, where in-state tuition increased by 7.5 percent, include a $13.6 million academic center and a $32 million renovation of a 1950s academic building. Others are awaiting approval.

The budget board's motion allows colleges to get projects back on track by promising to lower tuition below the inflation rates next semester.

That would cost Clemson $500,000 annually, college spokeswoman Cathy Sams told The Greenville News.


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