USC: 4-year degrees online?

Local lawmakers support USC's online initiative.

Students at the University of South Carolina’s two-year regional campuses would be able to get a bachelor’s degree through online coursework under a plan the university is developing.

USC President Harris Pastides discussed the plan Tuesday, when he met with journalists at The State to highlight an overall vision for the university that he hopes people will embrace as it moves ahead with its $1 billion fundraising campaign, called “Carolina’s Promise.”

Pastides, USC’s president since 2008, is linking that fundraising campaign to his administration’s new vision for the university, which he says will make USC a worthy investment for donors and a critical part of moving the state forward.

That new vision, called “Focus Carolina,” has seven key points, including making it easier for “place-locked” students to get four-year degrees from the state’s flagship university.

Offering students a chance to get a four-year degree through online coursework would put USC in more direct competition with for-profit institutions like the University of Phoenix, Webster University and Virginia University.

Those schools long have made flexibility a core part of their efforts to appeal to non-traditional, often older students.

In going over the broad outlines of the plan, Pastides said the idea isn’t simply to take on the for-profit schools. Rather, Pastides said the main aim is to give students in smaller communities in South Carolina easier access to a four-year degree from USC.

“The whole point is to meet people where they live,” Pastides said. “We’re improving access to a four-year degree at these campuses.”

Pastides said not all of the details of the plan have been worked out and the university’s trustees have yet to give their approval.

Pastides also said he wants to brief state legislators on the idea to make sure they know that his administration has no plan to adjust the core mission of USC’s two-year campuses, economic and cultural points of pride in the communities where they are located.

“We anticipate this will be a positive,” Pastides said.

The two-year schools — USC Sumter, USC Salkehatchie, USC Union and USC Lancaster — would continue to offer two-year associates’ degrees.

Earning one of those degrees allows their students to transfer to one of USC’s four-year campuses at Columbia, Upstate, Beaufort or Aiken.

But Pastides proposes to add a wrinkle.

Students who want more than an associate’s degree but are unable to attend classes at one of the four-year campuses also would have the option of going through their local two-year campus to get a USC bachelor’s degree. Much of that work would be through online courses, Pastides said.

While USC officials have not briefed state legislators on the plan, state Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, said he thinks it moves the university in the right direction.

“I’m really excited about that proposal,” Leventis said. “It’s probably long overdue. If they get that done, that would be such a blessing for our students around the state.”

Ken Wingate, chairman of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, said he, too, thinks the idea is a good one. But he said he wants to make sure the two-year campuses don’t market themselves exclusively as ways to get four-year degrees.

“There will be questions about where the lines are drawn, but I think this is proper and it’s creative,” Wingate said. “We want, as a higher education community and as a state, to find ways to make higher education more accessible.”

(c)2011 The State (Columbia, S.C.). Visit The State (Columbia, S.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.