State budget gives boost to higher education at MUSC

June 13, 2019
people walk around campus in front of the library
The library and Basic Science buildings are slated to undergo renovations. Photo by Leslie Cantu

The fiscal year 2020 state budget passed by the South Carolina General Assembly and signed by Gov. Henry McMaster includes welcome funding geared toward MUSC students.

The budget sets forth a $12 million appropriation for MUSC to put toward innovation or renovation. Most of that will be spent on renovating the Colbert Education Center and Library Building, built in 1971, and the Basic Science Building, built in 1970.

The building project will provide the College of Pharmacy with new, updated space in the Basic Science Building. It will also create more space for all students to study, renovate outdated classrooms and further consolidate academics in the heart of campus to foster interprofessional learning.

“The college is very excited about the opportunity to move more onto the central part of campus and to newer facilities,” said Philip D. Hall, Pharm.D., dean of the College of Pharmacy.

The college is currently headquartered in a 1952 building on Calhoun Street that was constructed as a cancer clinic with the college on the fourth floor. By 1970 the college occupied the entire building and today it also has researchers and a practice lab in the Drug Discovery Building and classes in the Basic Science and Biomedical Engineering buildings. Now, the college will get a 22,000-square-foot space in the Basic Science Building that meets the latest standards for learning.

It’s exciting to have academic space that will be designed with students in mind, rather than clinical space retrofitted for classes and faculty offices, Hall said. Five successive pharmacy deans have worked to make a new facility possible. “I’ve been very blessed to see it come to fruition,” Hall said. Both Hall and Lisa Saladin, PT, Ph.D., executive vice president for academic affairs and provost for MUSC, noted it is the first time in decades that MUSC has made a major investment in academic facilities on campus.

In addition to the $12 million cash infusion, the General Assembly appropriated $1.5 million in recurring funds to go toward the debt service to help pay off the project.

College of Pharmacy building 
The College of Pharmacy building on Calhoun Street.

Besides the pharmacy addition, most of the classrooms in Basic Science will be overhauled. “We have very outdated, theater-style auditoriums for classrooms,” Saladin said. Room 100 will remain theater-style, but the other classrooms will be updated. “The ability to have a lot of interaction within the room doesn’t exist when you’re in a theater-style ‘sage on a stage’ type of classroom.”

The library needs some infrastructure updates – an electrical overhaul, connectivity overhaul and more outlets so students can plug in devices – but it will also be totally updated to provide more and enhanced study space. Saladin said there will be more carrels and small-group study rooms. A new innovation space behind the Innovation Station will allow vendors to visit campus and demonstrate the latest technology. A learning space for the College of Medicine that will include curricular space for faculty and a student lounge will help enhance the space for College of Medicine students. The Health Care Simulation Center, currently housed in the College of Nursing, will also be moved to the library.

Saladin said the MUSC board of trustees and all necessary state boards have signed off on the first stage of the $53 million plan. Pending final approval at all levels, Saladin said the plan is for construction to begin in May 2020.

The 2020 state budget also includes $4.5 million in tuition mitigation that the university received in exchange for agreeing to not raise tuition this year.

“I am excited about the building – I think it’s fabulous. But the additional funds for recurring state dollars to mitigate student tuition is an indication the legislature is really looking to prioritize higher education and helping us with reducing the debt load on students by helping us keep tuition low. That’s incredibly important and greatly appreciated,” she said.

On the clinical side, the General Assembly provided an additional $7.25 million for telehealth, bringing the total to $13.2 million in recurring funding, said Mark Sweatman, assistant to the president for governmental affairs.

On a statewide level, the General Assembly spent $5.5 million to expand eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Early estimates show the money will allow more than 22,000 additional children to participate in the program, Sweatman said. The income limit to qualify will now be at least as high as the Southeastern average, according to the South Carolina Hospital Association. It had been the lowest in the region.

The General Assembly also remembered state workers. State employees making less than $70,000 will receive a $600 bonus in September and state employees making less than $100,000 will receive a 2% raise. The General Assembly also provided MUSC leadership the option to implement a 0-2% pay for performance merit increases for employees making more than $100,000 per year. A memo regarding the specifics of eligibility for these increases will be provided to university business managers in the near future.