COVID-19 not threatening high S.C. university salaries

By Rick Brundrett
The Nerve

As University of South Carolina and Clemson University students return to in-person or online classes amid the coronavirus spread, what remains constant at the state’s two largest colleges is the growing number of well-paid employees.
As of July 7, the 48,000-student USC, which has eight campuses statewide, had 1,193 employees earning at least $100,000 annually – 54 more than a year ago and 163 more compared to the same period in 2018, The Nerve found in a review of the state salary database.
At Clemson, which has a student enrollment of more than 25,000, there were 807 employees making at least six figures as of July 7 – 103 and 129 more compared to the same periods in 2019 and 2018, respectively.
The Nerve’s review found that about 18.5 percent of USC’s 6,469 employees and more than 20 percent of Clemson’s 3,957 workers receive annual salaries of at least $100,000. Of the 23,402 employees listed in the state salary database, 100 make at least $274,400 annually, 57 and 20 of whom work at USC and Clemson, respectively.
The salary database, maintained by the S.C. Department of Administration, contains annual salaries of $50,000 or more for state agency employees, though as The Nerve has previously reported, it doesn’t include certain agencies, such as the House and Senate chambers, or state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
The Nerve’s latest review found that 3,983 USC and 2,568 Clemson employees, or 17 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively, of all listed workers in the database, were making at least $50,000 yearly as of July 7.
Will Muschamp, USC’s head football coach, remains the highest-paid employee in the database, though his listed $1.1 million salary was a little more than a quarter of his overall $4.2 million compensation in the first year of a six-year contract, which he received in 2018.
His Gamecocks team went 4-8 last year and is scheduled to play a revised 10-game, SEC-division-only schedule starting Sept 26. Eight of the 10 highest-paid USC employees in the salary database work in the school’s athletics department.
USC president Robert Caslen’s salary is listed at $316,200 in the database, though it doesn’t include other income sources. The (Charleston) Post and Courier newspaper reported that the university’s Board of Trustees kept Caslen’s total annual salary at $650,000, noting he and other administrators had taken a 10 percent pay reduction to cut costs after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Caslen last year succeeded Harris Pastides, whose total annual compensation in 2018 was nearly $1.15 million, as The Nerve reported. Pastides remains an administrator at the university, where he was making $375,031 as of July 7, according to the state salary database.
In comparison, Clemson president James Clements was the eighth-highest paid Clemson employee in the database at $318,781 as of July 7, though his overall salary and taxable benefits last year totaled $994,296, according to his latest annual income-disclosure report filed with the State Ethics Commission. Most of his salary was paid through the university’s private foundation, records show.
Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney’s state salary is listed at $245,000 in the database, though as of last fall, he was the country’s top-earning college football coach, making $9.3 million annually, according to USA Today. Swinney led his team to national championships in 2016 and 2018; the Tigers are set to play a revised 11-game schedule beginning Sept. 12.
Clemson and the eight-campus USC have plenty of money for high salaries: Their total budgets for last fiscal year, which included state, federal and “other” funds, were $1.17 billion and $1.55 billion, respectively.
In addition, both schools historically have maintained large surpluses. The Nerve previously reported that as of June 30 last year, USC’s main Columbia campus and Clemson had other-fund reserves of $181.5 million and $149.7 million, respectively.
Following the initial COVID-19 outbreak, lawmakers in May decided to temporarily fund state government for fiscal 2021, which started July 1, at last fiscal year’s levels. They are scheduled to return to Columbia next month to consider, among other things, the fiscal 2021 state budget.
Universities’ “other” funds typically come from student tuition and fees. Tuition and required fees this school year for full-time, in-state undergrads total $15,210 at Clemson and $12,688 at USC’s main Columbia campus – the same rates as in 2019-20 and a change of pace from years of annual increases, though it’s likely temporary.
Some U.S. colleges are suspending in-person classes after reported spikes of COVID-19 cases among students there, according to media reports. In-person fall classes at USC begin today, with an option for online instruction. Clemson has begun online-only fall classes, which are expected to continue until at least Sept. 21.

Brundrett is news editor of The Nerve ( Contact him at 803-254-4411 or Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Author: Stephan Drew

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