2018 State of the University Address

2018 State of the University Address 

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Chancellor Al M. Panu, Ph.D.
University of South Carolina Beaufort
November 7, 2018

Good morning, everyone. I want to welcome you – our extraordinary faculty, staff, students, and friends. Thank you for being here today. Each year, it is my pleasure and privilege to convey an analysis of the state of the University of South Carolina Beaufort – the institution we all love and serve to the best of our abilities. 

Let’s take a moment to reflect on those last six words: To the best of our abilities. That phrase is about talent, aptitude, expertise, mastery, and more… it is about courage, fortitude, and accomplishment. To me, it is about all of you. At every opportunity and, at times, in the face of untold challenges, your Sand Shark standard is innovative hard work, which garners outsized successes. 

Last year, our State of the University address focused on growth – growth in size, stature, and stance. Our last 14 years have been characterized by tremendous growth of the university generally, of our campuses, and of enrollment.  For a decade – from 2005 to 2015 – USCB was the fifth fastest-growing public college in the country. And, as recently released, we remain in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Top 10. How is that possible? The answer is much easier said than done: It is possible because your hard work has resulted in monumental success. 

In 1959, USCB enrolled 82 students, who were offered night classes toward an associate’s degree in the Beaufort College Building. Nearly 60 years later, we are a fully-accredited baccalaureate institution, providing specialized instruction in 38 areas of study within 20 degree programs to more than 2,100 students on three campuses. We have come a long way.

So, the question becomes: How do we build on this incredible foundation? Strategically, what is our focus now? How do we go from growth to significant impact? The answer is: Capacity. Our capacity for substantive economic impact in the Lowcountry. And our capacity to secure sufficient resources to reach our full potential in terms of expanded and enhanced academic programs, increased enrollment, and sustainable infrastructure.

Let’s start with USCB’s regional economic impact. Research conducted by Dr. Robert T. Carey, director of the Regional Economic Analysis Laboratory at Clemson University, and our own Dr. John Salazar, director of Lowcountry & Resort Islands Tourism Institute, reveals that, in Beaufort County, 1,066 jobs, $50.5 million in additional wage and salary income, $122.4 million in output, and $1.6 million in net government revenue are attributable to USCB each year.

In 2004, when USCB earned baccalaureate status, real opportunities opened up for a generationally under-served population who no longer had to travel to Charleston, Orangeburg, Columbia, or further for a traditional university education within state lines.              

USCB’s mission charges us to respond to regional needs, draw upon regional strengths, and prepare graduates to contribute locally, nationally, and internationally. What does that actually mean?  It means… that we are here to raise the bar.

We are here to instill in the next generation a penchant for critical thinking. We are here to elevate the standard of living for those who will come after us and who will shape the communities they will inhabit. We are here because the complex needs of this state and this nation demand an educated, informed, and discerning populace.  

We are here because the Industrial Age long ago gave way to the Digital Age.  And, if we are to live in a knowledge-based society with a high-tech global economy, we have an obligation to educate, train, guide, and inspire students to rise to a level never before required of them.

Universities are drivers for capital investment because workforce development spurs enterprise and, therefore, job creation. Median lifetime earnings for college graduates are twice those of high school graduates. And a bachelor’s degree has been a proven buffer against unemployment in economic downturns. For instance, 80 percent of jobs lost in the last recession were lost to workers with no post-secondary degree.

These kinds of data are meaningful here – in Beaufort, Hampton, Colleton, and Jasper counties, where poverty rates exceed the national average. Both Jasper and Colleton are nearly double the national average. In the face of such need, and embracing our mission, we, as a university community, aspire to make an even greater difference.  But the question is:  Where do we find the capacity?

First by raising the bar on our own academic offerings and second by positioning this institution to educate greater numbers of students.

Expanding and enhancing our academic programs has commanded a lot of attention recently.  Most of you know that earlier this month we had a very successful on-site visit by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – known as the SACS COC. The Institutional Effectiveness team, in cooperation with virtually the entire faculty and staff and some students, has worked tirelessly on our documentation since January 2017.  From our initial 1,000-page report, which was submitted in March 2018, reviewers found eight areas of concern.  Those were addressed through a “Focused Report” submitted in August ahead of the site visit planned for October 8th through 10th – and unexpectedly coinciding with Hurricane Michael.

That was something! But let me tell you that not even a looming hurricane could stop the process! Thank you to everyone for a job well done. Despite the weather warnings, we were able to complete the meetings. And reviewers found only two remaining areas of concern. Those are being addressed through a follow-up report. And our full evaluation should go before the SACS COC Board of Directors in June 2019 – when we fully expect to be reaffirmed with no issues.

In a separate process, the Quality Enhancement Plan or QEP was also evaluated. I want to thank the members of that committee for an incredible job with reporting. The QEP, with its focus on experiential learning, is a huge part of the academic strategy for USCB. In fact, it is a roadmap that will guide our progress over the next five years. By combining classroom instruction with practical, hands-on experience, we strive to produce graduates who are not only highly proficient but also highly competitive on the job market.

We want to be the primary regional resource for exceptionally skilled health-care professionals, teachers, hospitality managers, science-based researchers, and computational troubleshooters.  Addressing extant and future challenges successfully underscores our institutional prominence as a regional problem-solver, catalyst for progress, and engine for economic growth.

In line with this goal is the launch of our graduate program: The Master’s in computational science, which will begin in the fall of 2019 here on the Bluffton campus. Graduate programs add another dimension to USCB, helping us to achieve even greater success in preparing our students – particularly given the ever-increasing demand for skilled employees in high-tech fields. The same is true for the proposed M.Ed. in Literacy, which, after its launch in 2020, will open doors to advanced certifications for our young teachers.

The fall of 2019 will see an expansion of Beaufort College Honors – with three full cohorts in Nursing, Biology, and Lowcountry Studies – as well as the launch of the Bachelor’s in Information Science and Technology. Then, in 2020, we plan to offer the first Business cohort for the Honors Program as well as the first implementation of the transition model to shift Honors students from Beaufort to Bluffton for the junior and senior years.

With these and other new offerings, we expect solid enrollment growth – driven by the strength of our programs as well as our emphasis on instruction and individual student success. Our current strategic plan calls for an enrollment of 2,500 students by 2021. In that original model, we projected an enrollment of 2,012 for fall 2018.   

We reached that goal with 2,117 students – our highest overall enrollment to date.  That said, our freshman class is 15 percent smaller than we had hoped – a gap made up with a 10 percent increase in transfers and a 78 percent increase in readmits, supported by a 63 percent overall retention rate.  Let me be clear, while the total number of students is above goal, our dip in freshmen has mandated new strategic thinking.

Looking forward to 2019, our Enrollment Management team has been working diligently, and I thank them.  They have strengthened their communications plan with differing types of outreach – like texting; more targeted outreach – like a push for adult learners; and increased frequency of outreach. They have refined their processing protocols for increased efficiency, and the results are evident. Year-to-date we have received 1,084 applications for fall 2019 compared to 666 this time last year. We have admitted 274, and five have paid deposits. Honors is proving a driver for interest in the university. Year-to-date there are 148 applicants for that program, and 41 have been admitted.

Concurrently, we are revamping our overall marketing and branding efforts – with substantive improvements in collateral materials, website, and social media.

With the student population poised to grow, we have given considerable thought to the student experience at USCB. We are small. We know our students, and we have genuine compassion for them. We want them to look back on their university years as enlightening, transformative, and yes… fun – because happy, successful students are the best recruiters.

Thus, I am very pleased to tell you that, as we approach our tenth anniversary of baseball and softball in Hardeeville, we are poised to make substantial upgrades to the facilities there.  Led by the Athletic Department, this effort will include dirt renovation for the infields, refurbishing the batting cages and dugouts as well as rectifying drainage issues. Further, we will purchase new equipment for our track and field teams. These much-needed enhancements are aimed squarely at giving our student athletes as well as our student, parent, and community fans a much better experience on the fields and therefore a much better overall experience at USCB.

Now… finding a way to reach 2,500 in and of itself is not the full picture of what is needed with regard to USCB’s capacity. Our strategic plan also calls on us to establish a process of resource allocation that identifies, aligns with, and supports this kind of enrollment growth.

I won’t belabor points of resource constraint. We all feel the tightened belt acutely, and I along with all of the cabinet are appreciative of your grace under pressure. USCB receives the lowest funding per resident FTE student of any comprehensive institution in the state: more than $1,000 per student below the average. Further, our annual state allocation is appreciably misaligned with regard to our value-add to South Carolina’s overall success. To put this in perspective, let’s return to Dr. Carey’s and Dr. Salazar’s economic impact analysis. They state that: “The total net impact of USCB on state government revenue averaged approximately $2.4 million per year. This, in effect, offset 70.4 percent of the $3.4 million in annual state appropriations for the university.”

And, yet, there are reasons to be hopeful.  In May, State Senator Vincent Sheheen introduced the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2018 which would allocate a percentage of a new Internet sales tax to higher education. In return for funding increases, universities would agree to tuition freezes and contained spending. Further, there would be incentives for greater in-state student enrollments. We look forward to the discussion this proposal sparks in the new legislative session.

This year, we are grateful to have received $397,000 in recurring state appropriation, even though that sum falls well short of our projected need for at least $600,000 to $700,000.  Further, we received $1.75 million as a down-payment toward our separate capital request of $8 million to complete a substantial renovation of the library on the Bluffton campus – a renovation to provide much-needed office and classroom space. Though we have not reached the appropriations goals we believe equitable, the challenge of attaining funding parity with other public comprehensives remains our top priority as we work with our legislative delegation.

Also, you may have heard about a new position created within the University System. Our own Eddie King has been appointed Executive Assistant to the President for System Affairs. Through this position, he is charged with ensuring that the needs, contributions, and issues of the comprehensives are represented in all endeavors in Columbia.

We continue to owe our greatest appreciation to Beaufort County Council and to the Beaufort-Jasper Higher Education Commission, which have been and remain staunch supports for us.  Additionally, we are building new avenues for private fundraising, which begins with establishing a Partnership Board, raising awareness of the university, and cultivating prospective donors.  In fact, these additions for USCB are foundational components of ensuring that we have a sustainable infrastructure.

Successfully supporting 2,500 students will require the overall infrastructure of the university to grow – both the physical plant as well as faculty and staff. USCB’s thin margins leave little wiggle room, and, for too long, we have labored without sufficient space or resources. 

Many of you may have wondered why we would expand to Hilton Head Island or reinvigorate our presence in Beaufort when so much is needed in Bluffton.  The answer goes back to capacity.  Beaufort and Hilton Head Island are integral to USCB’s overall growth.  State officials have often met a request for more space with a question of their own:  “What about Beaufort?  Are you using it?” The answer in 2018 is: “Yes, we are.” We are absolutely utilizing that capacity – and then some.

As we move forward, I ask you to remember that we are one USCB – Beaufort, Bluffton, and Hilton Head Island.  We rise together.  We realize our greatest successes with students together. 

Our senior leadership is accountable for guiding the overall, big-picture development and growth of all three campuses, along with academic programs, athletic programs, student life, enrollment, development, and so forth.  But having leadership that is singularly focused – whether on a particular campus or on a particular school of study – is invaluable. They bring attention to ideas and challenges that might otherwise go unnoticed and unaddressed. Further, they harness resources for targeted purposes. We have been fortunate to install great leaders as Deans. I thank them for their hard work. And you should know that the infrastructure model that created their positions was developed and planned many years ago but could be implemented only recently.

American theologian James Freeman Clark once wrote that: “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while a statesman thinks about the next generation.” At USCB, we are taking steps now to build out our facilities and people infrastructures so that we are prepared for what will be in 2021, 2025, even 2050. We are building capacity to serve not only current students but also the next generation of students in the Lowcountry.

Our mission is forward-thinking. Our task is progressive. And our successes are meaningful.  Some may think that we are reaching for the stars.  They are right, and we will continue to do so guided by the historic path that we alone have forged – to the best of our abilities. From 1959 to 2004 to 2018 and beyond, we have the capacity to make USCB the best first choice for all who live, learn, and work here.

Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, a great 20th century educator, once wrote:  “Not failure, but low aim is sin.” 

My fellow Sand Sharks, let our aim be exceeded only by our capacity.

Thank you.