July 15, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

As Tuition at S.C. Universities Increases, So Does Administrator Pay


University of South Carolina

Are students paying for hefty administrator salaries?

We’ve all heard it before: Tuition at South Carolina’s public universities and colleges is rising; state appropriations for higher education are falling; and it’s something that has been going on for years.

There is, however, at least one budgetary commitment that has remained constant or even increased at state institutions of higher education in recent years: total compensation paid to university presidents and vice presidents.

The Nerve analyzed total compensation packages for the presidents and vice presidents at the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, and the College of Charleston, the largest undergraduate public universities in the state. The Nerve obtained compensation records by filing S.C. Freedom of Information requests with all three universities.

While tuition at all three public universities has nearly doubled in the past decade, university administrators have been receiving steady compensation packages worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the review found. At the same time, the universities these administrators preside over have fallen in national rankings.

The Nerve’s review also found that, while university administrators often point to decreases in state appropriations as justification for tuition increases, the amounts of federal stimulus dollars each of these three universities received in the past two fiscal years more than offset any cuts in state funding.

“I disagree with these kinds of salaries,” said Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston and a member of the Agency Head Salary Commission, the state panel responsible for approving the salaries of all state employees who head an agency. “I think if the president is making this kind of money the president makes, you need to not raise tuition like this.

“That money should go back into the state treasury, to make sure the students don’t have to pay more just to get a South Carolina education.”

For fiscal year 2011-2012, the total compensation package for USC President Harris Pastides is valued at $535,000; for the College of Charleston President George Benson, at $398,987; and for Clemson President James Barker, at $400,000.

Each of those packages is more than 12 times the per capita income in South Carolina, valued at $33,163 in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“These kinds of salaries, it’s all just for the presidents to have their bragging rights, to say they’re paid in the top 50, the top 60, in the nation,” Ford said.

At USC, the total compensation paid to Pastides each year since fiscal year 2008-2009, his first in the post, has been constant at $535,000. That number includes both money from state government and supplemental private funds from University of South Carolina foundations.

USC President Harry Pastides

A report by The Chronicle On Higher Education, though, found that the median total compensation package for university presidents – including presidents of university systems with multiple campuses, like that of USC – at 185 of the top research institutions in the nation in 2009-2010 was $440,487 – $95,000 lower than Pastides’ package.

Meanwhile, both in-state and out-of-state tuition for attending USC have more than doubled in the past 10 years, with in-state tuition rising from $5,024 in 2002-2003 to $10,168 in 2011-12. After adjusting for inflation, that figure represents a 61 percent increase in tuition and fees.

A common refrain from universities regarding their yearly tuition hikes is that the increases are necessary because the amount of money the state appropriates to higher education has decreased each year. And this is true: For instance, for the 10-year period from 2001-2002 to 2010-2011, annual state appropriations to USC-Columbia have declined by 45 percent, from $183.7 million to $101 million, according to the most recent report by the S.C. Commission on Higher Education.

However, for the past two completed fiscal years, state universities have received federal stimulus dollars as a response to the recession. While those stimulus funds, which are non-recurring, have more than offset year-to-year reductions in state appropriations, universities have still elected to raise tuition in those years.

For example, in fiscal year 2009-2010, state recurring appropriations to the entire USC system declined by $20.5 million; that same year USC received $29.2 million in federal stimulus dollars, more than offsetting the loss in state dollars. Still, USC increased tuition by 3.6 percent for in-state and out-of-state students in 2009-2010.

“I wasn’t aware that the money for stimulus funds was more than the amount lost in state dollars,” said Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York and a member of the Agency Head Salary Commission, when contacted by The Nerve. “I think the tuition increases and the salary increases, or the salary levels, are something the General Assembly could maybe monitor more closely.”

In a joint email response to questions from The Nerve, USC Vice President for Human Resources Chris Byrd and USC Chief Financial Officer Ed Walton said the university is “very sensitive to the impact of rising tuition on families” and noted that Pastides has taken five unpaid furlough days in each of the past two fiscal years to help save money.

“President Pastides has not had an increase in his salary since he became president more than three years ago,” Byrd and Walton wrote. “Moreover, while the university has faced significant budget challenges during that time, including a reduction in state funding of more than $112 million annually [for the entire USC system], the need for consistent and competent leadership has been considerable during these challenging economic times.”

Like with Pastides, the compensation packages for USC’s vice presidents have not changed much over the years. However, including newly-hired Vice President for Research Prakash Nagarkatti, five of USC’s six vice presidents receive packages valued at more than $230,000 each for fiscal 2011-2012.

USC is not alone in raising tuition while keeping administrator compensation high, all while receiving federal stimulus funds that more than offset year-to-year losses in state appropriations. Indeed, USC appears to be more a case study among S.C. universities than an anomaly.

At the College of Charleston, for example, President George Benson’s compensation has not increased since he first took the top position in 2007-2008. However, the compensation packages for five of the college’s six vice presidents have increased since 2006-2007, including three packages that have increased by more than 14 percent each after adjusting for inflation.

For instance, the compensation package for Victor Wilson, the college’s executive vice president for student affairs, has increased by $46,892, or 17.4 percent after adjusting for inflation, since 2006-2007 – just before the height of the recession.

In the past 10 years, in-state tuition at the College of Charleston has increased from $4,858 in 2002-2003 to $9,616 in 2011-2012, or by 57 percent after adjusting for inflation. Out-of-state tuition has increased even more, by 76 percent after adjusting for inflation, or $13,356 more per year.

College of Charleston President George Benton

College of Charleston, like USC, repeatedly justifies tuition increases at least partially because of lowered state appropriations, as this letter from Benson in College of Charleston Magazine points out.

Yet, for fiscal year 2010-2011, the nearly $5 million the college received in federal stimulus dollars more than offset the $4.8 million cut in state funds to the college. That year, College of Charleston decided to increase both in-state and out-of-state tuition by 7 percent.

Officials from both USC and College of Charleston said because the federal stimulus dollars were one-time funding, they decided to not include them in the universities’ base budgets and instead used the funds for one-time expenses, such as infrastructure improvements and deferred maintenance.

In addition, although the amount of general funds appropriated to public universities has decreased significantly in recent years, general funds make up only a small portion of a university’s overall budget.

For fiscal 2011-12, general funds made up only 9 percent of the College of Charleston’s overall budget. For USC, that number was 11 percent; for Clemson University, general funds were only 8 percent of its overall budget.

The bulk of these universities’ budgets actually comes from other funds, which are made up of tuition and fees. Of the College of Charleston’s $220 million budget, $183.5 million, or 83 percent of the overall budget, comes from other funds. At USC, $641.8 million out of its $907.2 million budget, or 71 percent, comes from other funds; at Clemson, other funds make up $650.6 million out its $805.4 million budget, or 81 percent.

Universities are crying out that they need to increase tuition because their state appropriations are dwindling; but those appropriations make up only about 10 percent of their overall budgets, and cuts to those funds have been offset by federal stimulus dollars in recent years.

Moreover, universities are carrying over tens of millions of dollars in unrestricted funds from year to year, as The Nerve has reported.

All these same financial trends are visible at Clemson, where in-state tuition has increased by 67 percent and out-of-state tuition by 75 percent in the past 10 years after adjusting for inflation.

In that same time, Clemson President James Barker has seen his compensation package increase by $120,986, from $279,014 to $400,000 – a raise of 14 percent after adjusting for inflation.

Clemson President James BarkerSome of Clemson’s vice presidents have received large compensation increases in the past decade as well, even when adjusting for inflation.

In the past 10 years, the compensation package for Doris Helms, Clemson’s vice president for academic affairs and provost, has increased by 28 percent, to $270,389 today. The package for John Kelly, vice president for agriculture, public service, and economic development, has increased by 19 percent after, to $242,732 today; and for Neill Cameron, vice president for advancement, by 15.5 percent, to $211,185 today.

As these administrators at S.C. public universities are receiving raises, their universities are falling in national rankings.

In Kiplinger’s “Best Values in Public Colleges” rankings for 2011, USC fell 14 spots this year, from the 28th-highest-ranked public university in the nation in 2010 to 42nd-highest in 2011. Clemson fell eight spots, to No. 41, in 2011; the College of Charleston fell 28 spots, to No. 84.

Kiplinger’s ranks schools in order of those that provide the best education at the most affordable price.

Across the state as a whole, a 2009 study by the Southern Regional Education Board found that public colleges and universities in South Carolina had the highest tuition and fees of any state in the 16-state Southeast region in 2008-2009, the most current data available.

The median annual tuition and fees for an in-state undergraduate student at any four-year public college or university in South Carolina were $7,700; by contrast, the median tuition and fees for the entire region were $5,000, the study found.

Kendra Stewart, a political science professor at the College of Charleston and chair of the college’s Faculty Budget Committee for the past two years, said that while she sees no problem with university administrators’ compensation levels in particular, there is a problem in how public universities create their overall budgets.

“In South Carolina, compared to other institutions in other states I’ve worked for, the faculty committee really has no role in the budget process,” Stewart told The Nerve. “There is really no effective student or faculty voice in the budget, and I think that’s a problem.”

At the College of Charleston, most budget decisions are made by the board of trustees and a group that includes the president, some vice presidents, and the provost, Stewart said. In other states such as Kentucky and Florida, budget decisions are made by a board of regents that includes elected representatives from the student body, the faculty and the administration, she said.

“We need to make sure internal voices are included, so we have adequate views from other sides,” said Stewart. “It’s very helpful to have those voices when talking about things like tuition – you really should have a student in there with his or her voice.

“And that’s not a College of Charleston choice; that’s a statewide choice – that they don’t want to include ‘the regular people’ in any decision. They just want an elite group.”

Ford, of the Agency Head Salary Commission, said he was unaware that any president or vice president at a South Carolina public college or university received more than $200,000 in base salary. At USC, Clemson and the College of Charleston, though, a total of 13 administrators received more than $200,000 each in base salary for fiscal 2011-2012.

“I didn’t know about this,” said Ford. “Your job as the president is to make sure South Carolina students get the best education possible, at an affordable price, in our state.”

Both Ford and Hayes said part of the reason that administrator pay has been trending upward at the same time tuition has is lack of action on the issue in the Legislature.

“The General Assembly isn’t interested in that kind of stuff,” Ford said. “They’re interested in going to Clemson and USC games, while not realizing that what they’re doing is making it impossible for Clemson and USC students to go to school and pay their tuition.”

Contact Amit Kumar at (803) 254-4411 or at amit@thenerve.org.

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