In the past two decades, the University of South Carolina has grown substantially. Whether through new campus buildings or population growth, the university is consistently evolving and expanding.
From 2008 to 2017, total enrollment increased by 26% and in-state undergraduate enrollment rose from 14,878 students in 2016 to 15,743 in 2020. The university has also welcomed its largest freshman class to date each of the last three years.
USC's campus has expanded to match the growing student population, including with the completion of the Darla Moore School of Business in 2014, renovations to Russell House in 2022 and the opening of Campus Village in 2023.
However, this is not an unplanned influx of students, according to Elizabeth Orehovec, the assistant vice president for enrollment management and executive director for undergraduate admissions. Orehovec said the university has been on a "growth trajectory for many years" as it aims to educate more South Carolinians while accommodating increased interest from outside the state.
Provost Donna Arnette said USC has a lot to offer and promotes a strong brand that is attractive to students.
"We have a very unique first-year experience that drives a lot. It’s also a national trend that large flagship R1 universities are experiencing growth, so maybe it's part of a larger trend of students wanting to come to the South,” Arnett said.
Large universities, particularly in the South, have been increasing enrollment since 2000, according to research done by the non-profit Urban Institute. Southern schools have enrolled a significant amount of out-of-state students, and USC enrolled 64% more in- and out-of-state students in fall 2018 than in fall 2000. SEC schools have also consistently grown more than other state universities, with the University of Alabama doubling its enrollment in just the last two decades.
Due to the long term growth plan USC has implemented, consistent communication throughout university departments is necessary, according to Orehovec.
"There are many conversations that happen across the university, with academic departments, with housing and in admissions, specifically. We meet with those departments throughout the year to make sure that we are letting people know what the goals are and making sure to plan ahead," Orehovec said.
With more than 7,000 freshman on campus, the university needs more housing, according to university architect Derek Gruner. Newly-opened Campus Village addressed part of that issue with 1,800 new beds, a dining hall, classrooms and study spaces.
"We saw that area of campus not just as an opportunity to add beds but as an opportunity to expand the campus fabric, or at least the campus fabric that everyone really admires, and really just beautify a place on campus that had not really been addressed," Gruner said.
Campus Village accommodates almost a third of the freshman class, but the demand for more housing goes beyond first-year students.
"There’s always been this desire to increase the beds on campus so that more sophomores could stay on campus," Gruner said. "We know that there's a demand for students who want to live beyond their freshman year on campus. There's a waiting list, so that was very much in our minds when we were adding beds.”
USC has an application for upperclassmen who want to continue to live on campus, but those that apply are not guaranteed acceptance. The school currently offers Park Place as upperclassmen only dorms, and apartments on the Horseshoe are reserved for continuing students in the Honors College and Capstone Scholars.
The university is also holding ongoing discussions about how to create more space for freshmen while updating older dorms, according to April Barnes, the director of university housing. The plans, Barns said, focus on how to grow student housing over the next decade.
"So looking at revitalizing Capstone, Columbia Hall, South Tower, looking at what to do with Bates Hall, Bates West," Barnes said. "We're looking at McBryde, looking at additional potential housing projects."
However, some students — such as Trey DeTurris, a third year real estate and entrepreneurship management student — believe the new buildings on campus have come at the expense of updating others.
“So with (Campus Village) being built, I think it's a great idea for having more housing for more incoming students. But the thing is, there's also other buildings that I feel like need to be taken care of first, such as Columbia Hall and Capstone,” DeTurris said. “I feel like more should be done as far as the cleanliness of the building."
Others within the university have also had concerns about the impact of the large incoming classes.
"There's been a lot of talk of 'We hope there's melt,' where people that pay enrollment deposits end up going somewhere else," said Bill Sudduth, chair of the faculty advisory committee and head of government information and maps for the university libraries. "We know that if 8,000 people pay the deposit, then all of them show up, that’s going to be tough."
The advising experience for the latest freshman class has also seen significant overhaul. Thirty-five advisors were added to the office over the summer to better serve undergraduates and accommodate the move to a four-year advising plan, according to Catherine Studemeyer, the director of the office of exploratory advising and academic coaching.
"We have certainly seen a surge in demand, particularly in my office," Studemeyer said. "The impact that it's had on advisors, whether it's my staff working with major change students or the primary academic advisors at the colleges, is you're just dealing with a higher caseload, and your summers are a whole lot busier."
Some students are now being advised in groups during orientation if they have similar course needs. Studemeyer said those kinds of adaptations are what allows advisors to meet demand without sacrificing quality.
"When you have 150 students that need to get advised in a day, you can't do that in one-on-one appointments," Studemeyer said.
However, Sudduth said that the larger population has minimal direct impact on professors. Over the summer, 137 new faculty were added and the number of instructors for University 101, a course designed to help freshman adjust from high school to college, has increased by 35% since 2022.
"I don't think that (the growing number of students) is a concern for professors. That's a registrar department concern," Sudduth said. "Anytime you grow an organization, there will be stresses. You have to provide more sections, particularly of 100 and 200 level classes. Departments that have a heavier 100 or 200 class level load, they have to be prepared for that."
The university also announced this year a new plan to guarantee admission to the top 10% of seniors graduating from qualifying high schools in South Carolina, but the policy is not expected to cause a significant difference in the amount of students in future freshman classes, according to Orehovec. Instead, it is aimed at attracting students that think they may not meet criteria otherwise.
"We were already getting applications from about half of the students who are in the top 10% of their South Carolina class," Orehovec said. “What we’re hoping is that we might see a little bit more geographic diversity from this plan.”