Facing The Budget Challenge Head-On: USC Upstate Continues To Grow Despite Reductions In State Funding
By Natalie Brown
Over the course of the past year, the University of South Carolina Upstate has been confronted with a major reduction in state funding. After three mid-year budget reductions and possibly another at the end of the fiscal year in July, the University, which relies on student tuition and fees for about 73% of its operational budget, had its state appropriations cut by a total of nearly $3.9 million. However, University leaders have faced this decrease with a positive approach, refusing to refer to the 6% loss in appropriations as a crisis.
“We continue to be very positive about the growth of our University, even as we face budget challenges,” said Bob Connelly, vice chancellor for business affairs. “I strongly believe that USC Upstate will avoid the extreme measures that other institutions and agencies have already turned to in order to stabilize their budgets.” Connelly attributes his optimism to the fact that USC Upstate made a number of strategic cuts throughout its budget, instead of cutting the entire budget across the board.
In order to determine where strategic cuts could be made, USC Upstate’s faculty, staff and administration came together and to recommend a number of cost saving ideas. Dr. John Stockwell, chancellor of USC Upstate, engaged University leadership, including the cabinet structure and department chairs and directors, for input on areas where strategic cuts could be taken.
“I attribute our success in pulling together during the time of budget reductions to continued openness and disclosure of the situation,” said Chancellor Stockwell. “We have been fortunate to receive such an outpouring of support and suggestions from the campus community in response to our efforts to keep one another fully informed.”
As USC Upstate worked to determine cost saving measures, the common interest of faculty, staff, and University leadership was clear: that academic instruction, student activities, and student services (such as campus safety and health services) would be minimally affected by the decrease in state funding.
In order to manage state funding cuts without compromising the academic integrity of the institution, USC Upstate chose to reorganize, relocate, and restructure a number of positions within the University that were left unfilled through retirements and vacancies. Other cost-saving measures included reductions in operating expenses, travel and meetings and non-essential supplies.
“We received many well considered and practical suggestions from faculty and staff,” said Stockwell. “A great concern was energy usage and the amount of money we can save by turning off computers, monitors and overhead lights when they are not in use.” Other employee suggestions included the use of electronic methods for communication and instruction, including Blackboard and e-mail, decreasing the use of printing and paper; using campus mail services more effectively and for business use only; and attending webinars or phone conferences instead of incurring travel expenses.
“The future of our institution will be strong as long as we continue to focus on expanding our academic programs,” said Connelly. “USC Upstate is fortunate to have continuing increase in enrollment despite several decreases in state funding. We are becoming less dependent on state funding and more dependent on enrollment, thanks to the growing number of students who choose our University each year.”
USC Upstate is currently the fourth largest university in the state in terms of undergraduate in-state enrollment and, according to Connelly, perhaps the most efficient. “Due to the decreases in state appropriations, the University is now operating with fewer state dollars per student than any other public institution in South Carolina,” said Connelly. “Though we are not happy about the terrific financial squeeze within which we are operating, we are giving the state a great return on its investment, graduating nearly 1,000 students per year.”
USC Upstate grew significantly over the past year, despite state funding cuts. The 150,000-square-foot Health Education Complex and one reconstructed parking lot have been completed, while several other capital projects, including the new downtown location of the George Dean Johnson, Jr. College of Business and Economics, the Magnolia House freshman residential facility, and an additional parking lot reconstruction are well underway.
Various smaller capital projects were put on hold in order to focus on academic programs and larger-scale projects, but the University will continue to press forward with additional construction projects in phases.
“We have a gradual continuous improvement approach to campus development,” said Connelly. “USC Upstate will continue to pursue our campus master plan as we expand our academic programs to serve this area. We’re on the road to growth, and every dollar is positioned for a purpose.”