School learned lessons from protests, questions that doomed 2005 attempt
MARCH 29, 2012 11:27 a.m. (1)
Then-Chancellor John Stockwell’s plan was dropped just a few months later after lawmakers expressed concern over what would happen to the University Center – a consortium of colleges that offer classes in part of the old McAlister Square on Pleasantburg Drive – without the school that offered the lion’s share of undergraduate classes at the facility and how the school proposed to pay for it.
Now, six years later, there’s once again talk of USC Upstate about building a campus in Greenville.
But the skeleton of the most recent proposal is vastly different from the one in 2005.
If it is built – and there is no guarantee it will – the campus would be located somewhere downtown. The school prefers a site on Mayberry Street near the Kroc Center owned by the city, but is considering other locations in or near downtown as well.
Chancellor Tom Moore said the University Center, where about 800 students attend at least one class, functions almost like the proposed 2005 campus because it is just down Pleasantburg Drive from Greenville Tech’s campus and easily accessible to students who can get to Tech’s campus.
A downtown campus would allow the school to serve additional students who are unable to get to Pleasantburg Drive, he said.
Moore said he expects continued enrollment growth in Greenville and university officials don’t expect the University Center to be able to meet demand over the long haul.
Moore said the school will work to raise private money to help pay for the campus. The 2005 proposal called for a $10 million bond to pay for the construction.
“We learned some lessons in 2005,” said John Perry, the school’s executive director of University Boards and Public Affairs.
Moore said the school would work to raise private money to pay for the downtown Greenville campus. He said university officials also believe enrollment growth in Greenville will pay for running the campus.
USC Upstate used a similar strategy to build the George Dean Johnson School of Business and Economics in downtown Spartanburg. The city of Spartanburg donated land next to the Chapman Cultural Center and built a parking garage and $10 million in private money was raised.
“Spartanburg invited us to locate in downtown Spartanburg,” Perry said. “But there was $14 million in its hand.”
A resolution approved by Greenville City Council said it supports the downtown campus, but called for USC Upstate to buy or lease land for the campus. If the campus is located on land that is now city-owned, the resolution calls for the school to pay fair market value.
The resolution, which underwent six drafts before last week’s special called meeting and was amended another four times during the meeting, calls for the school to provide parking.
Under the agreement, the city would provide the necessary street and sewer upgrades for the facility as long as the school gave advance notice so the improvements can be included in the city capital plan without tax or fee increases to the public at large.
The city would have final approval of the site plan.
Councilman David Sudduth expressed concern during the meeting about how the resolution was handled, although he voted for it after four amendments he proposed were approved.
“Not once in my six-plus years on council have we ever handled an economic development project in the way we’ve handled this one,” said Sudduth, who said two separate meetings were held that were attended by four council members each to avoid a quorum in what he called a “divide and conquer” strategy. “A project of this magnitude deserves to be treated as any other major economic development project.”
Sudduth, who said the resolution was redrafted almost daily for the purpose of securing four votes, called the resolution premature.
Mayor Knox White said USC Upstate asked council for the resolution so it could proceed with planning. USC Trustee Mack Whittle said the school wants to have the Greenville campus open in fall 2014.
USC Upstate marketing students will begin a market research study this summer to evaluate the changing needs of a new demographic of adult learners in Greenville, said Dr. Rosalind Paige, an associate professor of marketing.
Focus groups will be part of the study. Questions will address potential choices of degree programs, student services to be included in the new location, preferred class times and student interest in online versus traditional classroom classes or a hybrid of the two.
Greenville is the largest municipality in the state without a public four-year college.
Perry said USC Upstate’s partnership with Greenville Tech has given the university some predictability in demand. The Direct Connect program allows students to take their first two years of classes for a four-year degree at Greenville Tech and be granted automatic admission to finish the last two at USC Upstate. “It guarantees a couple of hundred students,” Perry said. “With those numbers and those coming back to school, there’s a tremendous market there that is being underserved.”
Perry said building a Greenville campus would not hurt the school’s main Spartanburg campus, but allow the school to bring some resources back to Spartanburg.
“There’s a fear that what you do in Greenville will hurt Spartanburg, but that’s not the case,” he said.
USC Upstate was originally founded to avert a nursing shortage. Spartanburg General Hospital had announced plans to eliminate its diploma program for registered nurses, prompting Dr. G.B. Hodge and others to move quickly to try and prevent a potentially serious health care labor shortage for the city.
Through their efforts, Spartanburg was introduced into the University of South Carolina system as a regional campus. In the fall of 1967, classes began for 177 nursing students.
After that modest start, USC Upstate has become one of the fastest – and times the fastest – growing teaching colleges in the state.
For the decade ending with the 2011-12 school year, enrollment at USC Upstate grew 26 percent – faster than all of the state’s public four-year schools except USC Beaufort and Coastal Carolina, where enrollment has jumped 56 percent and 52 percent, respectively.
Five schools – the Citadel, College of Charleston, South Carolina State University, USC Aiken and Winthrop University – saw enrollment decreases during that same time.
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