SMC receives federal approval to offer first four-year degree this fall
Spartanburg Methodist College has received Department of Education approval to offer the first four-year degree in its 108-year history. The approval was needed to award federal and state financial aid to bachelor’s degree-seeking students. In December, the college also received approval of the four-year degree from its accrediting organization, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Upon receiving Education department approval earlier this month, the college began enrolling current sophomore students into its new Bachelor’s Degree with Concentrations in Business, English, History and Religion. This week, it will also begin enrolling transfer students from other colleges and universities. Students will begin taking bachelor’s degree classes this fall.
Interest among current students has been strong, says SMC Vice President for Enrollment Ben Maxwell. “We’ve got a few dozen who have already applied to stay and finish their education with us,” he said. “We expect to see those numbers climb as we keep getting the word out on campus and reach out to transfer students, too.”
Joseph Kemp of Boiling Springs, South Carolina, is a current SMC sophomore who plans to study business and history in the new four-year program. “SMC offers a great learning experience at an affordable price,” he said. “I’m excited to be able to continue learning from my favorite professors.” Kemp is one of many SMC students who take advantage of a full tuition scholarship offer for students who earn and retain the South Carolina LIFE Scholarship. SMC uses a mix of the student’s scholarships and grants, plus institutional funds, to fully finance the cost of tuition. Students who quality for the full tuition scholarship pay only housing and fees.
Alex McNeely, a sophomore from Reidville, South Carolina, says that while affordability is important to him, he also sees the new program as being adaptable to his interests. “By choosing two concentrations, I can tailor the degree to subject areas that really interest me.”
According to Maxwell, the college projected enrolling a first-time junior class of about 50 students. “Because we weren’t sure when Department of Education approval would come, we haven’t been able to advertise the new program heavily to our own students,” he said. As a two-year college, SMC students who seek bachelor’s degrees have been compelled to finish their education at other colleges and universities. “With the approval coming before our students have made their transfer decisions, we’ve already begun revising our projections for the size of this historic first class of juniors and seniors,” Maxwell continued.
The Education department blessing came almost exactly one year after the college began the process to create a new degree program and submit it for approval. Offering a four-year degree had been studied by college administrators on-and-off since 1991, says SMC President Scott Cochran, but the discussions didn’t get serious until February 2018. At that time, the Board of Trustees approved exploring a four-year degree after viewing a presentation showing that market and demographic trends were making the need to expand programs urgent, Cochran said. “High school students can now earn enough college credit to qualify for an associate degree, and an increasing number of community colleges are adding four-year programs,” he said. “We believed we could create a degree that would serve our students better than any other liberal arts college, and I think we did just that.”
Students enrolling in the new bachelor’s degree will choose two of four available concentrations in business, English, history and religion, making up two-thirds of their course of study. Another third of their classes will be taken in the Camak Core (named for college founder Dr. David English Camak), which will provide career development classes for college credit.
“Students will study professional communication, networking, project management, applied technology and participate in internships for college credit,” said Courtney Shelton, vice president for professional development and design, who worked with SMC faculty to create the new bachelor’s degree. “We want them to apply their classroom skills in the business and non-profit worlds so that they get marketable work experience well before they graduate.”
The decision about the kinds of work experiences offered by the college was made in consultation with local industry leaders, says Dr. Jonathan Keisler, who teaches business and economics courses and also serves as chair of the bachelor’s degree program. “Business leaders expressed a desire to see well-rounded and job ready candidates with multiple skill sets,” he says. “Spartanburg Methodist College is uniquely positioned to offer our students a liberal arts experience that combines multiple areas of study with intentional professional development.”
SMC students will continue to be required to earn associate degrees in arts, business, science, fine arts, religion and criminal justice, all of which are designed to prepare students to transfer to bachelor’s degree programs in a variety of subjects, whether at SMC or elsewhere, Cochran said. “We absolutely believe in the value of an associate degree for students who need or want a stepping stone to a four-year degree or who want to go directly into the work force after two years,” he said.