University of South Carolina

One class at a time

New opportunity for employees to earn degree online with Palmetto College

By Peggy Binette,, 803-777-7704

Like many young adults Eric Grabski saw the Army as a way to serve his country and pay for his college education. Little did the Neenah, Wisc., native know that it would take him to Fort Jackson and ultimately the University of South Carolina.

Grabski arrived at Fort Jackson in 1985, 14 days after marrying his wife, Debbie, whom he met in Panama. They were 20 and eager to start their life and a family. Eric was ready to earn a college degree.

“After I got out of the Army, I did a lot of research about opportunities. I thought a university would be a good idea so that I could work and go to school. I had heard good things about USC and its law enforcement,” says Grabski, who joined the university’s police department as a patrol officer in 1986.

After a few years he headed to class, first taking courses in early childhood education at USC and then switching gears after starting a family to earn an associate degree in criminal justice from Midlands Technical College.

“We had our second child by then, and something had to give. I wanted to be a great husband, father and employee, but I also couldn’t get school out of my brain. So I slowly kept taking classes. Sometimes I had to drop a class, but I kept on,” says Grabski, who took classes using the tuition assistance benefit available to university employees.

Grabski retired from the university as its deputy director of field services in 2008, shortly returning to serve as captain, managing law enforcement’s community and campus relations and public information.

And that’s when he heard about the Back to Carolina program and later Palmetto College, which enables adults to complete a bachelor’s degree online.

“I thought this is the answer to everything. Over the years, I’ve seen the value and worth of a degree, particularly from USC,” says Grabski, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies through Palmetto College.


USC’s tuition assistance benefit for employees

Grabski says the university’s tuition assistance benefit for employees is about taking care of the Carolina family.

“It’s a privilege for our university to provide the opportunity for employees to take classes. It says a lot about the commitment to staff and to education,” he says.

The tuition assistance benefit enables staff and faculty to take one, three-hour credit course per academic term at no charge. Enrollment is handled on a space-available basis.

Vice President for Human Resources Chris Byrd encourages employees to take advantage of the benefit.

“We encourage university employees to continually improve their skills so they can enhance their own careers. The University of South Carolina wins as our employees continue their education and strengthen their ability to contribute to our important mission,” Byrd says.

Palmetto College, which begins this fall, offers staff and faculty the added flexibility of being able to take courses and complete a bachelor’s degree online. Currently, there are seven degree options available through Palmetto College.

Susan Elkins, chancellor of Palmetto College, says employee tuition assistance is a part of the university’s broad educational mission.

“It’s very important to encourage our own university family members to pursue their educational goals and to assist them in doing so. There is no better way to ‘lead by example’ than to help those within the USC family achieve their dreams,” Elkins says. “Since university employees receive up to four free courses per year as a benefit, there is a huge financial advantage for employees as they earn their degrees. Successful students are the best ambassadors for any program, and that’s true for promoting Palmetto College.”

Employees who are interested in getting started in Palmetto College or have questions about how to register to take a course using the tuition assistance benefit should contact Doris Johnson at 803-777-0588 or via email.


Words of encouragement

Grabski knows the challenges of balancing classes with work and family.

“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. Start off small with one class. I had a non-traditional schedule and was on-call 24/7 during the height of my career. I learned how to make it work,” Grabski says. “It’s never too late. Life is all about looking forward. I found that you become more disciplined, which bleeds into other parts of your life.”

He says, at first he wasn’t sure what to expect from online classes.

“I am challenged as much by online classes as I am by traditional ones. Faculty understand the online classroom experience and how to engage in healthy debate, encourage participation and challenge students to learn and grow,” Grabski says. “When everyone goes to bed at night, I go to school. I get my coffee, put on my comfy clothes and grab my books.”

Grabski says a good support network helps. Of course, USC is a family affair for the Grabski family. His wife works in University Housing, and his younger son, Brian, works in the College of Arts and Sciences. Eric, his older son, will graduate from USC in August and hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the USCPD.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity and the care that our university has given us. It motivates me and tells me that my institution believes in me,” Grabski says. “I encourage others in our community to use the tuition assistance and take that first step.”

He recently was inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, the national honor society for adult learners in continuing higher education. “I’m really proud of it. It validated some of my discussions about going back to school. It motivates me even more.”

After he earns his degree through Palmetto College, Grabski says he plans to apply for the graduate counselor education program in the College of Education.

“I’ll never stop,” he says.

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Posted: 07/25/13 @ 2:00 PM | Updated: 07/25/13 @ 6:43 PM | Permalink