Breakfast Attendees Discover it's Never Too Late to Educate

October 12, 2016 | Posted By: Connor Watkins

October Chamber Breakfast

The audience at the Greater Lexington Chamber’s monthly breakfast on Tuesday, sponsored by Wells Fargo, received some beneficial information on a developing trend in advanced education.

Dr. Susan Elkins, Chancellor of USC’s Palmetto College, addressed the crowd on the topic of a partnership to make USC bachelor’s degrees accessible, affordable and flexible for all South Carolinians.

There are eight USC campuses across the state, including the main Columbia campus, along with three other comprehensive institutions in USC Aiken, USC Beaufort and USC Upstate. The four two-year regional campus programs are at Lancaster, Salkehatchie, Sumter and Union.

“It’s that system of the eight campuses who are actually partnering together,” Elkins said. “They cover the state of SC working to provide bachelor’s degrees either on the two-year campus level or the four-year campus level, or the new twist, which is online.”

Palmetto College was launched in 2013 with seven initial degrees, including elementary education, liberal studies and organizational leadership through USC Columbia.

“If somebody is in the upstate or down in the lowcountry, they can do that degree, and we have partnerships with K12 schools where students can do the practicum work and in many instances end up getting a job in their hometown without ever leaving,” Elkins said of the elementary education degree program.

The other degrees initially offered included a business degree through USC Aiken, a human services degree through USC Beaufort, and criminal justice and nursing degrees through USC Upstate.

According to Elkins, Palmetto College will soon offer 14 degrees.

“We felt like at the end of the third year it was time to double that number of degrees. Four degrees were launched this fall. The other three will launch in the spring to give us a portfolio of 14 online degrees,” she said. “Again offered by your USC campuses in the most accessible, affordable and flexible way.”

During the first three years over 11,000 people have inquired about Palmetto College and over 500 students have graduated. Focusing closer to home, 45 students from Lexington County were enrolled in Palmetto College online bachelor’s degree completion programs in 2014. That number grew to 57 students in 2015 and 76 students in 2016. And as of spring 2016, 20 Lexington County students had completed an online bachelor’s degree through Palmetto College.

“This is not nearly enough. There are many more, and we want you to help us find them,” said Elkins, challenging Lexington’s business leaders. Elkins also noted that Palmetto College has had students from 45 of the state’s 46 counties with the missing link being McCormick County.

One effort to increase those numbers is a series of information sessions being held at all of the public libraries across Lexington County. The first of those sessions was held at the Irmo location, and Palmetto College gained a student as a result of that meeting.

Palmetto College is also involved in a dual enrollment project with local school districts. This allows students to have access to college programs and courses while they’re still in high school. This can have a tremendous impact on affordability for many students because in most instances the lottery pays for those courses, according to Elkins. The dual credit programs are already in place in Lexington District One and Lexington-Richland Five, and they will soon be offered in Lexington Districts Two, Three and Four as well.

The idea is for Palmetto College to result in more bachelor’s degrees for SC residents, which will lead to job creation and economic prosperity. It should also lead to healthier, more educated communities and an overall improved quality of life.

“Not everybody can go to Columbia at age 18 and be in a fraternity or a sorority and go to ballgames and live on the Horseshoe,” Elkins said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure everybody has the opportunity to have that same quality degree.”

The breakfast was sponsored by Wells Fargo and catered by Crescent Moon Restaurant.