USC Sumter sees 20 percent more students enroll than in fall 2016

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Increases in dually enrolled high school students and new freshmen on campus have led to a sizable uptick in enrollment at University of South Carolina Sumter this fall, according to college officials.

USC Sumter Enrollment Manager Joe Mews provided the trend statistics recently. Mews conservatively projects total fall enrollment to be about 970 students at the college when including students who are part of an eight-week Fall 2 term that begins in late October and ends in December. That's about a 20.5 percent increase from last fall when total enrollment was 805 students. The 970 enrollment total is the largest for USC Sumter since 2011, when the fall semester's student count was 1,018, according to Mews.

Adding a full-time educational partnerships coordinator over dual enrollment of high school students taking college-level courses at USC Sumter contributed to an increase of 121 high school, concurrent students at the college - nearly doubling the total count from one year ago of 144 students.

Vicki Singleton started in January as the college's first full-time coordinator of educational partnerships. She said the growth in dual enrollment at the college is from both expanding current partnerships and developing new ones.

Singleton said USC Sumter's relatively new Early College program is growing rapidly. The program consists of high-achieving, local high school juniors and seniors who take dual-credit classes full-time at USC Sumter's campus during their last two years of high school and basically complete their two-year associate degree while also earning their diploma. The Early College program is unique in that students are immersed in the USC Sumter campus, required to carry the same work load as current USC Sumter students and are treated the same by professors.

This year's high school junior class in the Early College program has 41 students, compared to 14 last year, according to Singleton.

As far as traditional dual enrollment classes locally, the college has renewed a partnership with Sumter Christian School and expanded a partnership with the Sumter area Homeward Education Association for home schoolers.

Regarding new dual-enrollment partnerships, the college has added both Pelion High School and River Bluff High School in Lexington School District 1, as well as continued a partnership with Lexington High School.

The college's freshman headcount this fall is 270 students, up from 217 last year.

Keith Britton, USC Sumter's director of admission services, credits the increase to the addition of two new athletic teams - men's soccer and women's golf - and increasing recruitment visits and workshops to area high schools.

He said more high school recruitment workshops are being held at night to accommodate students' parents in the college's five-county service region of Sumter, Clarendon, Lee, Kershaw and Williamsburg counties. Britton also said the college expanded high school recruitment visits last year into Richland County and also into the Charleston region, especially for the college's athletic programs.

"We're definitely excited about the numbers," Britton said. "We're not totally where we want to be yet because we have the capacity to serve even more, but we're thankful to see the progress being made as our numbers are going up."

The college's freshman class of 270 is its third-highest tally since 1993. In fall 2009, the total freshman headcount was 319, and in 2007 it was 285.

College officials also said expanded bachelor degree offerings via the online Palmetto College network has also helped enrollment. Local Palmetto College students take their major coursework online through USC Sumter but are actually counted in enrollment as students at the source college - such as USC Aiken or USC Upstate - for the online degree coursework. However, Britton said some local students interested in a Palmetto College online major might not have all the required credits necessary to enroll in such a program and must enroll as a USC Sumter student first to earn more credits. Therefore, USC Sumter's enrollment rises.

"That's the greatest thing about the learning community that we are in now," Britton said. "The options at one point were so limited in order to complete a four-year degree program. Now, the barriers are being removed, and you can get that four-year degree done without having to leave your job, without having to leave your family. You can stay right here in town and get it completed."