By Harris Pastides and Susan Elkins
As a state trooper, Dirk Bron Jr. didn’t work the kind of schedule convenient for earning a bachelor’s degree. His work sometimes required long nights and early mornings in different locations throughout the state; not the ideal when planning semester-long academic commitments. Enrolling in online classes through Palmetto College allowed Dirk to earn both his associate and bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. In July 2017, he was appointed an associate chief magistrate in Laurens County, South Carolina—an appointment that wouldn’t be possible without a four-year degree.
At the University of South Carolina, we know there are thousands of working professionals just like Dirk, which is why we created USC Palmetto College. Founded in 2013, USC Palmetto College was established to support an underserved community of students who, for a variety of reasons, are limited in their ability to complete their bachelor’s degree. South Carolina is home to more than 500,000 residents who have some college education, but have not yet completed their bachelor’s degree. USC Palmetto College offers them an opportunity toward social mobility through a combination of affordability, accessibility and flexibility, making post-secondary education a first-time reality for many.
Earning a four-year degree has a transformational effect on graduates. In South Carolina, bachelor’s degree holders earn, on average, $15,000 a year more than those with only an associate degree. Moreover, a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn, on average, $1.2 million more during their working career. At a time when some question the value of a college degree, it is more evident than ever that education is a universally recognized distinction that enables upward mobility and expands opportunity.
USC Palmetto College’s online bachelor’s degree completion programs enable students who have accrued 45-60 approved course credits to complete their bachelor’s degrees online in one of 14 programs from USC Aiken, USC Beaufort, USC Columbia and USC Upstate. USC Palmetto College delivers a high-quality degree, taught by our internationally recognized faculty from the comprehensive and research institutions, at the lowest possible cost. It enables students to have flexibility in their course scheduling to fit education into their already complex lives.
Current USC Palmetto College Online bachelor’s degree completion programs include: Business Administration (with concentrations in Accounting and Management), Special Education, Health Promotion, Hospitality Management, Human Services, Elementary Education, Information Science, Liberal Studies, Organizational Leadership, Criminal Justice, Information Management & Systems, Health Informatics and Nursing (RN-BSN).
Because earning an associate degree is often the first step to attaining a bachelor’s degree, USC Palmetto College offers two-year degrees from USC Lancaster, USC Salkehatchie, USC Sumter and USC Union. The USC Fort Jackson and Shaw Air Force Base programs also deliver associate degree education and online bachelor’s degree completion programs to active military, veterans, S.C. Army and Air National Guard personnel, reservists, their families and Department of Defense employees.
Just a few years after its launch, USC Palmetto College is flourishing and today serves approximately 6,000 students, serving every county in the state. This includes an associate degree program enrollment of nearly 5,000 at the campuses. Of the nearly 1,000 online courses offered since its inception, more than 24,000 seats have been filled and Palmetto College Online is currently on track to have 1,000 graduates this year.
While these results are impressive, we seek to build on our early success by serving even more residents throughout South Carolina. Life circumstances and professional commitments should never keep motivated individuals from the chance to earn a degree. Through their achievement, graduates create new opportunities for themselves and their families, and like Dirk Bron Jr., serve as an inspiration to others not to give up on their dreams.
Harris Pastides is president of the University of South Carolina. Susan Elkins is chancellor of the University of South Carolina Palmetto College.