SMC welcomes largest freshman class in college history
As students and families from across the state and region began arriving at Spartanburg Methodist College Saturday to move into their residence halls, they didn’t yet know they were making history as the largest freshman class to attend the college since its founding in 1911.
A total of 496 new freshman students, about 60 percent of whom moved onto campus Saturday, are set to begin classes Wednesday. “We’re at total capacity in our residence halls,” said Teresa Ferguson, dean of student affairs. “We were scrambling last week to figure out where to house more students if we needed to, but we have enough space for everyone. It’s a good problem to have.”
As college orientation activities began Saturday evening, word started spreading. “There’s an incredible amount of enthusiasm and excitement in this group,” said the director of student activities and leadership. “I think being part of this largest class, and viewing the once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse together, is going to bond them in a way that previous classes haven’t experienced.”
Kaleb Jackson, a sophomore student from Greenville, South Carolina, who assisted with weekend orientation activities, said he enjoyed seeing the variety of students and cultures. “They bring a new energy to SMC with their different styles and vibrant personalities.”
The college’s previous record class of 469 freshmen arrived in 2013, said Vice President for Enrollment Wells Shepard. He adds that enrollment began declining after that year and continued to trend downward through fall 2016. “The last three years have been disappointing. I’m an SMC alum, and I know the great opportunity we offer our students. It’s gratifying to see the numbers begin trending upward again.”
In addition to admitting the largest freshman class ever, the college also reached the highest total incoming class in its history, Shepard said. 548 students paid deposits to attend SMC this fall, a number that includes students transferring from other colleges and also former SMC students who left for various reasons and have been readmitted. Because transfers and readmits aren’t new freshman, Shepard explained, they aren’t counted in the history-making 496-number class.
President Scott Cochran, who took over leadership of the college in 2015, credits the increase to changes in how the college has sought new students. “Last fall we created a strategy that took the entire year to implement. It involved improving the admissions process, changing the way we market to prospective students, implementing a new software system and just plain hustle.”
Cochran said the enrollment total puts the college on track to reach a goal of 1,000 enrolled students by 2020. As of Monday, approximately 800 students are set to begin classes Wednesday, which is a return to a normal class size of the past 20 years and sets the stage for continued growth, he said.
“In January 2018, we’ll begin offering the college’s first completely online degree program, an associate degree in Criminal Justice, to an audience of mostly working adults.” That program is still pending approval by the college’s accreditation organization, he adds. “The online program is consistent with our mission and history. SMC was originally founded to provide an education to adults who were already working, to help them achieve a better future”
The college is also partnering with Combine Academy to offer online courses to students preparing for collegiate-level sports, Cochran said. Approximately 30 Combine Academy students will take courses starting this fall.
“We feel confident we can take the highly supportive education experience we offer our on-campus students and translate it successfully to an online environment,” he said. “We’re a liberal arts college; we absolutely believe in the value of traditional classroom instruction, but we’re also mission-driven to offer an opportunity for a college degree to those who want and need it and who may not be able to get it elsewhere. We’ll meet them where they are.”