COLUMBIA, SC – The Senate Finance Committee completed work on the $7.5 billion state budget for FY 2016-17 on Thursday, April 21, 2016. Although the order of the recommendations and the appropriated amounts between general appropriations and lottery funds varied from the budget passed by the House, the two budgets are strong in support of independent higher education.
In general terms, the budgets passed by the House and the Senate Finance Committee increase funding for the Tuition Grants Commission by $2.53 million. This amount, as requested by the Commission, will allow the maximum need-based Tuition Grant to increase from $3,100 to $3,200 for the 2016-17 academic year.
Like the House, the Senate Finance Committee voted to fully-fund the State’s merit-based student financial aid programs—Palmetto Fellows, LIFE, HOPE, and Tuition Assistance scholarships—by appropriating more than $300 million in lottery funds.
The Committee also recommended that the Higher Education Commission’s need-based grant program receive an increase of $4.54 million. The Tuition Grants Commission receives between 16%-17% of the total need-based appropriation based on the percentage of students attending independent colleges and universities. If funded at this level, it is estimated that $29.5 million in need-based grants through CHE will be available to independent college students in the coming year.
Unlike the House, the Senate Finance Committee did add funding for PASCAL to its version of the budget. PASCAL is now the first priority in Unclaimed Lottery Prizes in Excess of $18 million. The $1.4 million appropriated to PASCAL will only be available if the total amount of unclaimed prizes exceeds $18 million.
The Senate will begin debating the budget after it is printed and available to the members for a week. The significant differences between the House and Senate budget proposals make a Conference Committee a certainty.
At this point, SCICU favors the Finance Committee’s version of the higher education portion of the budget and would encourage members of the Senate to concur with the Committee’s recommendations. Friends of independent higher education should use every opportunity to encourage members of the Senate to concur with the recommendations of the Finance Committee in those programs important to students attending private non-profit colleges and universities.