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Creating the future for the Upstate

A high-quality college education is essential in our knowledge-based economy.

By MARY ANNE FITZPATRICK — I have spent nearly all of my professional career at large public research universities designed to educate tens of thousands of graduate and undergraduate students. From time to time, friends or neighbors would hesitate to “confess” that their son or daughter had chosen to attend a regional comprehensive university or perhaps begin their studies at a two-year institution, fearing I would assume all students should attend a large public research university. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Each student brings a unique set of preferences and priorities that determines the best fit for him or her. Desired major, intended career path, academic preparation, preferred class size, campus amenities, level of independence and financial resources influence a student’s choice.

Not only is each student different, each institution is different. Each has its own mission and role. No single university can meet every need, nor should it. Higher education requires the contributions of each type of institution in order to reach its full potential.

A high-quality college education is essential in our knowledge-based economy, and the University of South Carolina System is committed to turning the college education dream into a reality for as many South Carolinians as possible.

Although proudly part of a system, senior comprehensive universities like USC Upstate have a specific institutional role to play on the landscape of higher education. Situated in one of the state’s fastest growing regions, USC Upstate was recognized as a top 10 regional college in the South by U.S. News and World Report.

USC Upstate’s success and continued growth is necessary for South Carolina, but it is even more vital to the region. A core part of the mission of institutions like ours is a responsibility to partner with, and work to improve, our communities. Dubbed the metropolitan mission, USC Upstate is committed to engaging with our community partners on multiple levels.

Our beautiful 330-acre campus has a major impact on our community. As an extension of our academic mission, we host cultural and sporting events and enhance the community with our library, gallery spaces, 12-acre arboretum and protected green space.

In addition, USC Upstate has a direct economic impact through our 550 full-time and 500 part-time employees serving approximately 6,000 students. Using a model developed by the S.C. Department of Commerce, a conservative estimate of the USC Upstate economic impact shows that the university put $152,437,408 into the local economy in 2015-2016.

With state funding of about $11 million a year, USC Upstate continues to demonstrate an ability to leverage the state’s investment into a significant impact for our community. Moreover, we graduate more than 1,100 students each year and have 26,000 alumni with 85 percent remaining in the Upstate after graduation.

The Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, in its 2020 Vision, identifies increasing college graduation as a major driver for our economic future. At USC Upstate, we share this vision and stand ready to help shape the region’s future over the next 50 years.

USC Upstate already offers a full range of professional and liberal arts degrees, but we are keenly aware of changing demographics and are committed to fulfilling regional and state workforce needs. As we develop new programs, we are working in collaboration with business, industry and our two-year college partners to provide classroom experiences that will help students easily transition to the workplace.

In the past 10 years alone, USC Upstate has opened programs in engineering technology management, computer information systems, informatics and health informatics and is poised to offer new degrees in advanced manufacturing and urban and regional studies. In response to the Institute of Medicine recommendation that all nurses hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), we expanded our RN to BSN program. We are committed to a flexible learning model, offering these degrees online, in various locations on and off campus, in the evenings and on weekends.

When I became USC Upstate’s interim chancellor, I was intrigued by the unique niche the university occupies in the community. As I began preparations to celebrate our 50th anniversary, I was reminded of the rich heritage of collaboration between the university and the Upstate community.

Through the Spartanburg County Commission for Higher Education, the public provided the land to establish the institution and also paved the way for its growth. The community further entrusted us with its most precious resource — students.

Our very first program, nursing, was developed to avert a serious health care labor shortage in the region when Spartanburg General Hospital eliminated its nursing program. That commitment to designing and offering programs to support the community and ensure a strong and productive workforce continues today. It is fundamentally encoded in our institutional DNA. This is USC Upstate.

Originally published by GoUpstate on January 29, 2017.

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