Fall enrollment at SC public universities not as low as feared, revenue losses still anticipated due to pandemic

Updated: Sep. 7, 2020 at 7:34 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Public universities in South Carolina were projected to miss out on at least $76 million in revenue this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE) said that number may not be as much now.

With fall classes underway, universities now know what their enrollment looks like. The commission said enrollment statewide is down less than 1%, which is better than what was anticipated in late July and mid-August.

CHE President and Executive Director Rusty Monhollon told lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee, some universities were bracing and budgeting for a 15% drop in enrollment this fall because of the pandemic.

He called the enrollment numbers encouraging. “We are optimistic and hopeful things with the virus will improve but this a precarious situation we are all in,” Monhollon said they hope to have final numbers by the end of the month but he does not anticipate things to change much.

According to data from CHE, as of August 26th, enrollment is down 0.7% at public universities this fall compared to last fall. The University of South Carolina, Clemson University, Medical University of South Carolina, and Lander University saw increases in headcounts.

Jason Raven
Jason Raven(Jason Raven)

Monhollon said there was a 1.4% decrease in undergraduate enrollment across the state. He said that could have a long term impact on schools. “There’s a cumulative effect. If an incoming class is down those students are with that institution for the next four years. They have reductions in that class that will persist,” Monhollon said.

According to CHE, graduate enrollment actually increased by 2%.

Monhollon said the small drop in college enrollment at public universities shouldn’t lead to big losses in revenue but he does believe the losses in auxiliary revenue - like room and board and dining plans - will continue to cause financial problems for universities as they continue to navigate the pandemic.

“We’ve been focused on the here and now, now we have to really turn our attention the spring and beyond,” he said.

The South Carolina Technical College System said enrollment at their schools is down 5% this fall.

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