The Daily Gamecock

University considers online college

‘Palmetto College’ would meld current, new classes into four-year programs

USC has long competed against the College of Charleston and Clemson for potential students.

Now, the state’s flagship school wants to fight for a different clientele: students more likely to consider the University of Phoenix or Strayer University.

An in-depth proposal — currently under consideration by the university’s administration and board of trustees — would deepen the university’s virtual education offerings, create new majors and boost conferred degrees. In essence, Palmetto College USC, as it is currently dubbed, would create a virtual university complete with a new chancellor, a separate admissions system and some new faculty members. Palmetto College would link current offerings, coupled with new classes created by USC, into four-year degree programs.

Palmetto College would specifically target adults who are juggling work and parenting, technical college graduates, place-bound residents or first-time college families, according to Huron.

Here’s how it would work:

Students would achieve their first 60 hours at one of USC’s campuses or another technical college.

These students would then affiliate with one of the regional campuses for student support, sports tickets, laboratory courses and more. Some classes could be taken on campus, but most would be virtual. These classes would be in areas like criminal justice, hospitality and retail, among others. They would be taught by either a new faculty member or existing faculty members at regional campuses.

“I believe this will be profitable, but that’s not why we’re doing it,” said USC President Harris Pastides. “We are graduating too many people with associate’s degrees that don’t go on.”

The plan was created by The Huron Group, a private consulting firm, for $247,500. The plan is designed to bring in more tuition dollars and students while not significantly driving up costs. Its announcement also comes as USC officials say they cannot take in more students; capacity is already met in classroom buildings and dormitories around campus.

Huron officials and USC administrators say the program could be profitable on its own within five years. The university would need to enroll between 175 and 300 students for the program to break even or earn money, Huron said.

“We believe you have the opportunity to reach further in South Carolina,” said Ben Kennedy, a consultant with Huron. “We believe the demand is there, and that the history of success in many of the things you do position you well.”

The program’s initial start-up costs would be $1.5 to $2 million for course development. Those costs would at least partially replicate every five years — which Huron says is the “life of a course.”  Future costs would originate from salary fees and program development. Huron says much of the costs will come from faculty, but by using “less expensive regional faculty, USC can minimize operating costs which enables it to offer very competitive prices to Palmetto students.”

Officials point to a lack of infrastructure for the new classes, which could lead to a long term cash cow if the program became successful.

The university plans to directly compete with online providers — like Kaplan University, Strayer University and the University of Phoenix. A cost analysis completed by Huron indicates USC can offer 60 credit hours or the final two years of a four-year degree, cheaper than any other state alternative. USC’s would cost $20,085; 60 credit hours at Kaplan University currently costs $27,450.

USC says its primary competitive advantage is the prestige of a USC degree, compared to another online degree. The program would be the first program of its sort or extent in South Carolina.

The university will tout this new initiative as a quality proposal that links asynchronous learning with the University of South Carolina’s curriculum. Officials plan to accredit the programs through already established four-year institutions. Pastides said establishing a new college could create political problems with state agencies, but this current proposal only further uses current colleges in a virtual manner.


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