By Craig Brandhorst, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-3681
It’s been 10 years since Harris Pastides was named the University of South Carolina’s 28th president, and since Aug. 1, 2008, the university has advanced on myriad fronts. The past decade under his leadership has been characterized by resilience, growth, academic and faculty excellence, diversity leadership, spirit and culture, impact on the state — both economically and advancing health care — and access and affordability. Here’s a brief review of the past 10 years.
When Pastides took office in 2008, the U.S. economy was on the brink — and the Carolina community found itself facing challenges unlike any it had seen in decades. Parents wondered if they could still afford to send their children to college. Students wondered how they would pay back their loans. The university itself, meanwhile, had to devise a strategy not only to weather the storm but to come out of it stronger for the struggle.
And the struggle was made that much tougher by the drop in state appropriations, which had already dwindled from 40 percent of the university’s total fund revenue in 2001 to just above 20 percent by the time of the financial crisis. State funding would continue to fall in the years ahead, accounting for just 10.4 percent of the UofSC system’s total budget by 2018.
The first order of business was a new strategic plan, Focus Carolina, which zeroed in on scholarship, leadership, innovation, diversity, global competitiveness, community engagement and access.
All seven areas would prove critical to the university’s success during the Great Recession, but to parents and incoming students, perhaps none mattered more than access. It was with that in mind that Carolina launched the Gamecock Guarantee, which promises that eligible lower income, first-generation college students from South Carolina will have their tuition and technology fee covered for four years as long as they continue to meet the program’s criteria.
Bigger is better
Despite a prolonged economic slump, UofSC has grown at an impressive clip over the past decade under Pastides. Indeed, campus enrollment has risen from 27,488 in 2008 to 34,731 in 2017. Enrollment systemwide has risen from 41,518 to 51,130 — and freshman applications from 14,772 to 25,142 — over the same period. The steady increase in the student body put Carolina in fourth place among the fastest growing flagship universities nationally, according to the Washington Post.
But the university’s growth over the last 10 years is reflected in more ways than just the size of the student body. The Columbia campus, in particular, has seen its footprint widen with the opening of several new buildings, including the Darla Moore School of Business, the School of Law, the Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center, the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, the new Alumni Center and the Football Operations Center (currently under construction). Campus also benefited from multiple large-scale renovation projects, including the old public health building on Sumter Street, which became the new home of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
The smarter they come
It’s one thing to brag about a large student body, but academic success is the ultimate goal, and UofSC has made tremendous strides over the past 10 years under Pastides. The average SAT score for incoming freshman is just one indicator, rising from 1191 in 2008 to 1256 in 2017. During that same period, UofSC students were awarded $17.4 million in national scholarships and fellowships.
Of course, Carolina students also distinguished themselves once they were on campus. Since 2008, the university has produced 62 National Science Foundation Research Fellows, 65 Fulbright Scholars, 19 Goldwater Scholars, two Truman Scholars, one Marshall Scholar and one Rhodes Scholar. The university also launched the Graduation with Leadership Distinction program to encourage and reward beyond-the-classroom learning experiences.
Faculty at Carolina have been making a difference in the laboratory since the 19th century, but the past decade has seen significant research in virtually every field, from the health sciences to aerospace. Stroke research in the School of Medicine and Arnold School of Public Health has improved treatment and recovery outcomes in South Carolina, and the CarolinaTIP program, administered through the College of Education, is helping retain S.C. teachers in their critical first years in the classroom.
Data analytics-based research programs in public health, engineering, computer science and nursing are focused on improving HIV medical care for the state’s vulnerable HIV-positive population, making military helicopters safer and providing better hospital care to prevent costly and needless readmissions.
It stands to reason, then, that the university has also enjoyed a spike in sponsored awards funding, which rose from $206.1 million in 2008 to $253.6 million in 2017. Record levels of federal awards were achieved in 2014, 2015 and 2016. UofSC also has been among top 1 percent of patent-producing universities in the world every year since 2012.
We have a dream
Sept. 11, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the university’s desegregation, but making campus a more diverse and vibrant place is an ongoing effort involving every unit throughout the UofSC system.
The Welcome Table and Dive-In lunches championed by Pastides continue to encourage honest dialogue about reconciliation and inclusion, while the placement of historical markers on the Horseshoe acknowledging the role of the enslaved workers who built the campus and the installation of a new statue outside Thomas Cooper Library honoring Richard T. Greener, the university’s first African-American professor, have helped fill in gaps in the history of race on campus. The establishment, in 2015, of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research has further strengthened the university’s commitment to preserving the history of the Civil Rights movement in South Carolina and the ongoing pursuit of social justice.
To your health
From medicine and nursing to biological sciences to public health, UofSC is firmly committed to health science education. Indeed, the university offers 100 health science-related degree programs, two medical schools (including the School of Medicine-Greenville, which opened in 2012) and outreach programs such as the College of Nursing’s Promise Zone, which places nurse practitioners in six rural counties across the state. The college is also helping to fill the state’s need for more than 6,000 new registered nurses.
The university’s five health-related schools and colleges — nursing, medicine, pharmacy, social work and public health — are creating healthier communities throughout the state and, with 14,000 students collectively, filling the pipeline to meet the state’s future health needs.
The place to be
From back-to-back-College World Series titles to the women’s basketball team’s national championship title to the October Saturday when ESPN College GameDay took over the Horseshoe prior to the Gamecocks’ historic win over Alabama at Williams-Brice, it’s been easy to take pride in the garnet and black for the past 10 years. Just ask Cocky, who was immortalized with his very own bronze statue outside Davis College in 2017.
And there’s more to take pride in than what happens on the playing field. Over the past decade, UofSC has hosted countless arts events, visiting dignitaries, philanthropic fundraisers and on Aug. 21, 2017, one ginormously fun viewing party for the first coast-to-coast total eclipse in nearly a century.
As the flagship public university for South Carolina, UofSC makes its presence known in the Palmetto State — and with 100,000 degrees awarded during Pastides' tenure and a $5.5 billion economic impact on the state, how could it not? A study on the impact of higher education on the state of South Carolina indicated a $25 return to the state’s economy for every dollar invested in higher education. In addition, the University of South Carolina and its alumni drive the state’s economy by supporting nearly one in every 35 jobs in South Carolina.
The university was also named one of the top 100 employers in the United States by Forbes, which might help explain why UofSC’s faculty seems to get better every year.
Seen in the rearview mirror, the past 10 years reflect a combination of resilience, ambition and achievement, but that doesn’t mean the work is finished. As Pastides is fond of saying, “We can always do better, we can always do more.”
Just as Focus Carolina helped the university weather the Great Recession, an updated strategic plan, Focus Carolina 2023, has been implemented to build on the many success of Pastides’ first 10 years in office. Plans call for further growth of the student body, a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion, continued improvement to retention and graduation rates, and an even greater emphasis on career readiness.
More broadly, the university remains steadfast in its commitment to the ideals of higher education, which has become increasingly important to both the state and the individual student. It’s a core value President Pastides continues to emphasize at every opportunity. “A 21st-century university is fine tuned to the needs of a 21st-century graduate, classically educated in the core arts and sciences, workforce, innovation and leadership-ready,” he explained in his 2016 State of the University address. “The university of the 21st century must be more like, well, like the University of South Carolina we already know and love.”