It won't be restaurant servers and bartenders who graduate from a new University of South Carolina Beaufort campus on Hilton Head Island, contend university officials. Instead, they say future graduates will be managing yachts and country clubs, planning large events and festivals and setting up their own hospitality-related businesses.
"I have been in meetings on the island and some (have) said, 'You are just going to teach people how to be nice and get people low-level jobs,'" said USCB vice chancellor for advancement Lynn McGee. "But it is much more than that."
"Many of our students are getting that lower-level experience while getting their degree so they are graduating into higher-level positions," McGee said.
Current graduates of the program are in positions such as a food and beverage manager of Colleton River Plantation and assistant manager of the S.C. Yacht Club in Windmill Harbor, program director Charlie Calvert said. One former student, Brent Gresham -- who actually graduated from the University of South Carolina's program but completed his classes at USCB -- is the general manager of the luxury French Quarter Inn in Charleston.
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Graduates fill jobs in a wide variety of sectors including private club management, the restaurant industry, public and private tourism industries, chambers of commerce, visitor bureaus, the golf industry, marketing for events, and country clubs.
USCB has been offering hospitality classes on the island through the Columbia campus' program since the 1980s, Calvert said. The Beaufort branch then began offering its own hospitality degree program when it became a baccalaureate institution in 2002.
The Columbia and Beaufort programs are the only ones in the state offering stand-alone hospitality management degrees, Calvert said. Other institutions in the state only have hospitality tracks in its business programs, he added.
"It has been our goal for over 25 years to have a hospitality, restaurant and tourism degree on Hilton Head," Calvert said.
The campus -- to be built on Office Park Road and open with the ability to serve roughly 200 students -- achieves that goal, according to McGee.
The program has seen growth in recent years and likely will continue to do so, Calvert said, as the new campus should be able to accommodate 400 students at its capacity.
Exact numbers are difficult to compare, however -- the program had 165 students enrolled in 2010 and 141 in 2015 -- as a change in software led to changes in how students' majors were counted.
Many students transfer into USCB's program from the Columbia program and local technical colleges, Calvert said. Roughly half of the students in the program are transfers, according to numbers from the institutional research staff.
"The program is growing because it is a major that is demanded and very important to our local economy," Calvert said.
With the new campus, juniors and seniors will now be able to live and work on the island as they finish up their last two years in the program, gaining greater practical experience.
When asked for the program's graduation rate, McGee said such rates for individual programs are unknown. Calvert said it is a successful program, however, and that many of its graduates remain in the area.
While some taxpayers question why USCB needs a new campus in lieu of the current facilities they have, Calvert and McGee say more technology and improved infrastructure is needed. The current facilities are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, parking was inadequate and the air conditioning was spotty, according to Calvert.
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