FLORENCE, SC – Francis Marion University President Dr. Fred Carter’s annual welcoming address to the faculty was anything but usual this year. Carter unveiled an innovative new funding initiative this week, proposing that FMU receive an appropriations supplement because of the large number of in-state students it teaches.
Carter told faculty members at the university’s annual faculty breakfast that FMU would ask for an annual supplement of $750,000 in its legislative appropriations request this year. Carter said the funding would help FMU shoulder the cost of educating its high percentage of in-state students, and is appropriate given the fact that FMU purposely focus on educating South Carolinians and doesn’t offset much of its operating costs with out-of-state tuition dollars.
“It’s an innovative and sensible strategy on our part,” Carter told the faculty audience. “If the Citadel, Coastal (Carolina University), Clemson and now the University of South Carolina can’t afford to educate in-state students without enrolling 50 percent or more out-of-state students, then we deserve a stipend for educating our high number of in-state students.
“Look,” said Carter, “it’s a fair argument, so let’s join the debate. Frankly, I think there will be far more legislators sympathetic to our plea than to theirs.”
That line drew the biggest round of applause during the speech.
FMU’s new request throws the 48-year-old public university squarely into a simmering debate on the role of state universities in South Carolina. Legislators, and the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, have scrutinized the out-of-state enrollments of several state universities in recent months. The rising out-of-state enrollments — and the decision by some schools to offer many out-of-state students in-state tuition rates — has raised eyebrows.
Better than 95 percent of FMU’s student body came from South Carolina for the 2016-17 academic year. That’s the highest figure in the state and well above the figures at the state’s largest universities.
Carter said FMU’s legislative request would also include new money for hiring additional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) faculty, as it looks to expand its fast-growing engineering program; one-time capital support for the proposed FMU Honors Center; and money from the proposed South Carolina bond bill to support renovation of the old post office building in downtown Florence. FMU acquired the building through donor gifts last winter and plans to use it for new classroom and office space for its graduate-level programs in the health and medical sciences —another rapidly growing academic area at the university.
In his wide-ranging speech, Carter reported to faculty on several new programs that are on the way. FMU will enroll the first students in its new Doctorate of Nursing Practice program by the Fall of 2018, will enroll its first Speech Language Pathology students by Fall of 2018, and is developing a new Health Informatics program as well.
Carter also lauded a variety of research projects and successful grant pursuits by individual members of the faculty, and noted a re-organization of the university’s McNair Center that will support the increasing tempo of research at FMU.
“This faculty and this university are becoming increasingly successful at pursuing and completing research — pure and applied, internally and externally funded,” said Carter. “It’s time that we organize to make the process more sensible and expedient.”
Carter also noted the passing of six long-time faculty members who played significant roles in the founding of FMU: Larry Swails, Tom Roop, Lloyd Birch, Harlan Hawkins, David Peterson, and Morgan Coker. Carter told the faculty that without the contributions of those faculty members, “this university would be a vastly different place than it is today. It wouldn’t be as strong instructionally, it wouldn’t be as invigorating intellectually, and most of all, it wouldn’t be as collegial.”
Finally, Carter thanked the faculty for its support for him as he battled a serious personal health issue this last year.
“Even on those days when I didn’t feel strong enough to battle the disease myself,” said Carter, “I was surrounded by those of you who could and would fight it on my behalf. I can never thank all of you enough for your support and help. But I’ll keep trying.”