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Lowcountry Graduate Center’s governing board downsized

Ashley Heffernan
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The Lowcountry Graduate Center, located in the College of Charleston’s North campus at 3800 Paramount Drive in North Charleston, hosts courses for graduate-level degrees and certificates. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

The Lowcountry Graduate Center became an academic center of the College of Charleston and its management board shrank, following a newly signed consortium agreement.

The center, which was created in 2001, is funded by the state to offer Lowcountry residents more opportunities to earn graduate-level degrees and certificates.

Instructors from the College of Charleston, The Citadel, the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, S.C. State University and Anderson University teach night and weekend classes at the center, which operates out of leased space on CofC’s North campus at 3800 Paramount Drive.

Only CofC, MUSC and The Citadel are considered “member institutions” of the center, with seats on its governing board. The other schools are affiliates.

A new, three-year consortium agreement signed Jan. 30 by the presidents of the three member institutions doesn’t make mention of the affiliate institutions, as the previous agreement did, said graduate center director Nancy Muller.

“It’s very narrowed, and it’s very much focused on what is right here,” she said.

The new agreement says state funding for the center should be used to provide “short-term, startup funding support for new or substantially revised and expanded graduate programs where a need for these programs in the Lowcountry is identified and without regard to the optimal mode of delivery or the location of the delivery proposed for the new or revised graduate program.”

Muller said that allows the member institutions to use graduate center funds for programs on their main campuses, something that’s never happened before.

Prior to last year, the graduate center received its state funding as a line item in the S.C. Commission on Higher Education budget. Last year, its allocation was moved to the CofC budget, Muller said.

“Under this latest agreement, where we’re actually a center of the College of Charleston, we won’t even be a separate line item in forthcoming budgets,” she said. “We will just be buried inside the College of Charleston, just as student affairs is.”

Management changes

Under the new agreement, a supervisory council of the provosts from the three member institutions now manages the center. Previously, a governing board of eight and three non-voting, ex-officio members made decisions and recommendations, along with an academic affairs committee.

CofC provost Brian McGee was elected chairman of the supervisory council during its first meeting March 21. He said any institutions that currently use the center will be able to continue on, with no apparent changes in their operations. However, they eventually will need to sign a service agreement with CofC, instead of the Lowcountry Graduate Center.

Through those previous agreements, graduate center staff scheduled classes, set up tutoring services, planned events and communicated weather alerts, among other responsibilities. CofC staff will take on those duties.

McGee said the existing service agreements will be continued through at least the end of this fiscal year and will be transitioned to CofC over time. Muller suggested that could be a branding problem, because the universities will be using space from a fellow academic institution instead of from a neutral entity.

Provosts from S.C. State and Anderson universities declined to comment on the new agreement because they had not yet received notification of it. Officials with USC, the other affiliate institution offering courses at the center this semester, did not immediately return messages.

Limited resources

Prior to the 2009 recession, the state gave the graduate center about $1.2 million each year, McGee said. For the past few years, the center has received about $785,000 annually. He said the new agreement will make use of those limited state resources in a more efficient way.

“No matter how modest a recession is, if you flat-fund year after year, you are slowly cutting the purchasing power of the budget,” McGee said. “So one of the things that we did want to look at is how do we make sure that the agreement for the LGC strongly prioritizes what we see as the core mission of the LGC, given that resources are more limited than what they were when the center was first created by the state in the previous decade.”

He said it’s too early to discuss whether any of the center’s employees could lose their jobs because of the agreement.

“We’ve got good people over there who have been doing hard work. We will be looking, as we do with every employee at all three of the universities, at how we can make good use of what they do,” McGee said. “It may well be that we have some folks who do things differently than they were before.”

This story originally appeared in the April 3, 2017, print edition of the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

Reach Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144.

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