Students from three South Carolina universities urged lawmakers on Tuesday to be careful when they trim the budget, saying deep cuts to higher education will hurt the state’s economic future.
The nearly 30 student leaders from the College of Charleston, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina who rallied outside the Statehouse said they realize cuts are necessary as the state faces a $700 million shortfall.
“We won’t be immune, but we ask the cuts to be fair, equal and in accordance with other agencies,”’ said College of Charleston student president Isaiah Nelson, a 20-year-old junior from Herndon, Va.
Over the past two years, federal stimulus money has helped offset state cuts to higher education. But legislative leaders say most of the cuts in the 2011-12 budget will likely come from education and Medicaid, because that’s where the bulk of state money goes.
Colleges also have raised tuition and fees to cover shrinking state funding.
Legislators are considering capping tuition increases, saying colleges are pricing a degree beyond the reach of students and parents. Tuition rates at South Carolina universities are the highest in the Southeast, though college officials contend that lottery-funded scholarships keep out-of-pocket expenses for in-state students affordable.
Lawmakers also may limit how many out-of-state students a college can accept.
“At the end of the day, I believe Clemson knows what’s best for Clemson,” said Clemson student president Ryan Duane, a 22-year-old finance major from Irmo.
Separately, a House budget panel approved temporary law changes, which will require college professors to spend more time in the classroom while cutting the time illegal immigrants spend in prison before being deported.
College professors should be in the classroom teaching at least nine credit hours each semester because the state is having a tough time paying for college budgets, said state Rep. Murrell Smith, a Republican from Sumter.
“I think we need to have professors in the classroom and not on sabbatical and out researching and doing things to that effect,” Smith said.
The committee adopts temporary law changes that would be part of the state’s $5.2 billion budget. The full Ways and Means Committee will vote on those next week.
The panel also agreed to send illegal immigrants in South Carolina prisons to federal authorities for deportation in order to save money.
The House subcommittee’s measure would take illegal immigrants out of state prisons after they’ve completed at least a third of their sentence and send them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if a deportation order has been issued.
The measure would require colleges to turn over information to local police about students that pose a significant threat to communities.