USC’s online Palmetto College officially launches

Former tailback Marcus Lattimore among first 25 to enroll in program

Tim Black went to work and started a family after he graduated high school — college wasn’t on his radar.

The 47-year-old is a quality inspector at a steel manufacturer in Union, and after putting his kids through college, he figured it was his turn.

“I saw my children through school — I raised them — so I felt like it was time for me to come back to college,” Black said.

He’s been taking classes at USC’s Union campus, but as he nears his associate degree, his options there will run out. To get a bachelor’s degree, he’d have to drive to Spartanburg — 35 miles away — while balancing work and his family.

Black is among the first 25 or so students to enroll in USC’s fledgling Palmetto College program, which offers seven online degrees to students with 60 or more credit hours.

The online school launched officially at an event at the Statehouse Thursday morning, but it’s been quietly taking applications and looking for prospective students on regional campuses for about a week, said Susan Elkins, its chancellor.

That means an advertising campaign of radio and TV spots and billboards around the state is forthcoming, she said, as the program tries to attract about 500 students in its inaugural semester.

They’ll pay almost $700 less per semester than students on the Columbia campus — $4,367 compared to $5,044. The rates are equivalent to tuition at the Aiken campus.

Former Gamecock tailback Marcus Lattimore will be part of that class, Elkins said, as he continues his recovery and pursues a career in professional football.

“The bottom line is you can get a degree from anywhere in the state,” Elkins said.

The launch event featured university officials, incoming students and a handful of state legislators, including Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, House Speaker Bobby Harrell and House Education Committee Chairman Phil Owens.

USC is looking for the support of lawmakers as it asks the state for more money to fund Palmetto College.

Last year, the university received $5 million, including $2.8 million in recurring money, from the state to launch the program.
This year, getting the full $5 million on an annual basis is one of USC’s key requests from state government.

If that money comes through, Elkins said, it would allow Palmetto College to expand its offerings. The college will develop long-term plans next spring and spend the fall focused on the near term.

Courson, Harrell and Owens spoke in support of the program, which was also backed by Gov. Nikki Haley’s executive budget.

“I think we can all agree that a more educated South Carolina is a better South Carolina,” Owens said.

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