Sen. Sheheen discusses college tuition

Fights to lower “too high” tuition costs


Photo by: Elodi Breg

Senator Vincent Sheheen discusses lowering college tuition.

S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) discussed his plan to reduce college tuition at a symposium hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA) on April 9 in the Chapman auditorium inside the McNair Science Building.

Sheheen helped write the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which, if signed into law, would appropriate more funds to public higher education institutions, freeze tuition for a year and limit the amount that tuition could be raised.

According to Sheheen, revenue from internet sales taxes could be put into a trust fund that would be distributed to public colleges around the state.  He hopes to draw upon that revenue since last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could impose a tax on sales that come from out-of-state retailers, meaning that S.C. now has a new source of revenue.

Sheheen said the most important thing that would happen if the bill becomes law is that it would lower tuition.

“Tuition’s too high,” Sheheen said. “Even if you’re a senior, you should care about those who come behind you, and if you’re a freshman, it might just help you out.” 

According to FMU President Fred Carter, FMU took a 40 percent cut in its budget after 2008, compared to the 25 percent cut in the state budget. He said S.C.’s legislature decided that higher education institutions couldn’t get appropriations based off of money that was lost between 2008 and 2012, but rather they can only get appropriations for new programs.

“We responded, I think, reasonably well,” Carter said. “We developed engineering and health sciences and put new programs on the table. But in truth, we never truly recouped the 40 percent we lost.”

Carter said Sheheen’s bill would help FMU recover over time while taking its new programs into account and providing support.

“I think the internet sales plan, because of the possibility of those growth years going out into the future, and the fact that it would be dedicated exclusively to higher education, makes this probably the hottest thing we’ve seen in higher ed in decades,” Carter said.

SGA President Connor Graham said she helped organize the event because she wanted students to be able to talk to a legislator directly. She said she heard about the bill during a meeting between student governments of multiple universities. She supports the bill because higher education institutions have not recovered from the losses they took during the 2008 financial crisis.

“We’re the only sector that hasn’t rebounded,” Graham said. “And it’s so important to educate our students in South Carolina because they are the future of South Carolina. So if we don’t have an educated youth, what do we have?”   

Sophomore Eira Sabido said she supports the bill because she is worried about the loans she will have to continue to take out as she goes through college.

“It’s not just for me,” Sabido said. “It’s for other students who can’t afford to go to school and it would definitely help them out.”

Opposition to the bill comes from perceived unresolved issues. Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Horry) told “The State” he worries that if internet sales tax revenues decline, the legislature will have to cut other parts of the state budget and not be able to touch the higher education budget.

The Senate Finance Committee gave the bill a favorable report, so it can now be voted on by the full S.C. Senate. It’s unlikely that the bill will be signed into law before the S.C. legislature’s session ends in May, but it could still be considered during next year’s session.