The Education Challenge

Since the early 1960s, Greenville County has been faced with a daunting challenge for higher education: how to provide access to public higher education for two-year college graduates who cannot leave Greenville County to pursue a four-year or graduate degree. As the exponential growth of the Greenville metropolitan area continued throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s, the scope of the challenge became evident as more industries began to explore the benefits of relocating in upstate South Carolina.

Now the largest metropolitan area in the state, Greenville County does not have a full four-year public college or university within its borders. Although Clemson University (one of the state's two land-grant institutions) and the University of South Carolina Upstate are within an hour's commuting distance of downtown Greenville, neither institution is accessible to working professionals whose family and work responsibilities do not afford them the luxury of two-hour round trip to take daytime classes at a distant campus.

Rising to the Challenge

With the support of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, a solution began to emerge in 1981 when Clemson University began offering graduate-level courses during evening hours on what is now Greenville Tech's main campus. Although Clemson had been offering a limited range of undergraduate courses at the Tech site since the mid-1960s, the University's graduate-level initiatives during the early 1980s underscored the growing need for master's-level programs for place-bound professionals.

In response to this need, Clemson University, with Greenville Tech's cooperation, invited other state-supported institutions to form a consortium for the Greenville area. After considerable planning and negotiation, the proposed new Greenville Higher Education Center was chartered by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, and moved into an office suite on the Greenville Tech campus. The new consortium officially began its operation on July 1, 1987.

With the governance structure and funding sources for the new consortium in place, the next challenge was locating teaching facilities of sufficient size to accommodate the consortium's projected growth. Greenville Tech helped the new organization meet this challenge by purchasing an abandoned factory adjacent to the Tech campus. Purchased, renovated and equipped at a total cost of $3.5 million, the new multi-story University Center of Greenville (as the original consortium was soon renamed) officially opened its doors in September 1989.

By 1993-94, the Center's member universities had increased from five (in 1987-88) to a total of six: Clemson University, Furman University, Lander University, South Carolina State University, the University of South Carolina, and the University of South Carolina Upstate.

Virtually all sectors of South Carolina public and private higher education are reflected in the Center's roster of member institutions. In addition to South Carolina's two research universities (Clemson and the University of South Carolina), the Center is also served by one historically African-American institution (South Carolina State University, a public land-grant institution), by a selective, independent undergraduate university (Furman University), and by two regional public universities with primarily undergraduate missions (Lander University and USC-Upstate). Together, these institutions delivered courses for 22 undergraduate and 36 graduate degree programs at the University Center.

Growth & Change

In 1993, the University Center's enrollment growth reached a critical mass that threatened to exceed the capacity of the current site. That same year, thanks to the generosity of a local real-estate developer (T. Walter Brashier), Greenville Tech became the recipient of a $5 million campus site ideally suited to the future growth of the University Center and subsequently leased by the consortium. After extensive renovation, this new facility was dedicated on September 12, 1996.

Increases in program offerings and enrollments again created the necessity for a larger facility.  In January 2001 the Center moved to McAlister Square mall across the street from the previous location.  The entire mall (600,000 square feet and 49 acres) was purchased by Greenville Technical College and its Foundation, and a completely renovated (2001) 123,000-square foot space was leased by the University Center.  The center of the mall is occupied by an assortment of businesses, non-profits, and county agencies.

The revitalization of an older mall to house an educational enterprise along with commercial and service businesses is an innovative and economical use of real estate to meet a range of needs in the community.

Leadership & Operations

Since the Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s 2009 Community Report Card placed Greenville 15% behind other competitor cities in terms of the adult population with bachelor degrees, the University Center of Greenville has been working with area leaders and industry partners to increase the community educational level by more than 40,000 new degrees. Bringing together public and private sector leaders and higher education institutions positions the University Center to meet the education and talent needs of its citizens, and help drive Greenville's competitiveness.

Having an educated population greatly impacts both quality of life and available talent for area businesses. There exists a significant attainment gap between where Greenville is educationally and where it needs to be to match similar-sized communities like Richmond, Knoxville and Jacksonville. Based on analysis by the national CEOs for Cities, an increase of 40,000 degrees in Greenville will generate approximately $1.4 billion in the Upstate’s annual economy.

To bring the voice of Greenville’s business leaders to the forefront of closing that gap, the University Center announced its new governing Board of Trustees, comprised of business and community leaders in 2011. In addition to the Board of Trustees, the University Center also depends on the continued academic program guidance and leadership provided by the Academic Council, consisting of leadership from each of the member institutions.

Capitalizing on the new community support, the University Center also adopted a new strategic plan that includes initiatives to address some of the attainment gap factors, including outreach to typically-underserved populations, as well as identifying ‘near-completers,’ or individuals that have some higher education, but did not finish a degree.

Accompanying the new strategic plan is a shift in the University Center internal leadership. In 2011, Dr. Fred Baus stepped down as President, and now serves as the Vice President for Strategic Planning. David A. Taylor, who joined the University Center in May 2011, now serves as the CEO and President In his inaugural year at the University Center, Taylor led the development of a new strategic plan at the University Center, bringing the organization to a more sustainable long-term financial state, as well as positioning the center for growth in regards to present and future initiatives. Repurposing the University Center’s Board of Visitors, a community-based advisory group, into the Community Leaders Council, an action-oriented committee group, is another strategic leadership change for the center.