More college students are coming to Beaufort Co. Here’s what it could mean for the area

Floor plan shows how students will share apartment space at new USC Beaufort housing

Four students will share bathrooms, living space and a kitchen at new apartments for honors and art students at USC Beaufort historic campus.
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Four students will share bathrooms, living space and a kitchen at new apartments for honors and art students at USC Beaufort historic campus.

Beaufort’s population is growing by at least several dozen in August, and more could follow in the coming years.

About 65 incoming college freshmen will move into new apartments later this month in a student-housing development on Boundary Street. The uptick might not register right away, but is seen by local officials as a milestone as USC Beaufort re-engages its historic campus in northern Beaufort County through new facilities and academic programs.

“Because of those dorms and because of the honors programs, this campus is up 50 percent in its student population,” said Bob LeFavi, new dean of the Beaufort campus. “There is absolutely no reason if we are thoughtful with our programming we can’t continue to grow at that rate.”

The new students will be enrolled in honors biology and honors nursing programs starting in Beaufort for the first time this fall, as well as in the studio art program already offered.

Students will spend the first two years on the Beaufort campus before completing their four-year degrees on USCB’s campus in Bluffton. Administrators hope to eventually be able to keep students in Beaufort all four years and to offer more honors and graduate programs.

The university hopes to reach capacity of 96 students in the new housing by this time next year, said LeFavi.

More apartments could follow.

The Boundary Street apartments were developed by 303 Associates and leased to USCB. The property and others nearby would allow for more, said Dick Stewart of 303 Associates.

The Beaufort development company, in conjunction with the school and local businesses, is welcoming students with a promotion called “Shark Week Beaufort,” which will include discounts at local businesses, sunset yoga, kayak and boat tours, a beach trip and a digital scavenger hunt for a chance to win prizes.

The influx of new students, who will bring visiting parents and friends, could be a boon for the uptown area of Boundary Street, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said. He envisions the school eventually using a former Boys and Girls Club building as well as easy walking and bicycle access among the university building and residence halls.

“If you study cities with universities, you see that there’s considerably more vitality, that students engage in things in the school and outside of the school,” Keyserling said. “They shop, they dine, they bring parents here, they volunteer.”

The new apartments have parking on-site. A university police officer is on the Beaufort campus each day and will be at the new residence hall at night, LeFavi said.

LeFavi has met with various neighborhood and civic groups since he was hired this spring, including the nearby Pigeon Point neighborhood.

The group proposed ways it could welcome students, such as a possible gathering at Pigeon Point Park — “something to engage the students with the neighborhood,” said Rod Mattingly, a Pigeon Point resident and outgoing chairman of the neighborhood watch group. “... It’s going to enhance the overall neighborhood. We’re excited to have them here.”

USCB has been a four-year institution since 2002 and enrolls more than 2,000 students. The school chose Bluffton to build its primary campus as the school grew, with its availability of land and central location in the county.

A new residence hall opened on the Bluffton campus last fall.

A new hospitality campus on Hilton Head Island is expected to be completed this fall, with classes to begin in the spring, USCB spokeswoman Kerry Jarvis said.

Revitalizing the Beaufort campus, where Beaufort College first opened in 1804, has been a vision for years, Keyserling said.

Graduate programs eventually could include computer science, with the possibility of students taking advantage of partnerships with the emerging Beaufort Digital Corridor and a computer science program at College of Charleston, the mayor said.

LeFavi has talked to city staff and local businesses about possible internship opportunities and said future academic programs could be driven by what is available for students to experience in the community.

He said many of the new students he met at orientation last week are from outside the area and experiencing Beaufort for the first time.

“And i think that shows we have something unique here,” LeFavi said.