USCB milestones show investment paying off

This year's University of South Carolina Beaufort graduation ceremony was marked by several milestones, once again reinforcing the wisdom and foresight of this community's support for a four-year university and a new, larger campus.

They also show the university's responsiveness to the community's education and workforce needs.

The 272 students who graduated April 29 included the first class to earn four-year bachelor's degrees in nursing, the first group of students from the Saturday Business Degree program and the first students to earn studio art degrees.

Twenty-seven students earned four-year nursing degrees. USCB, which gained four-year status in 2002, had long offered two-year degrees, but the university identified a demand for nurses with a bachelor's degree. In 2005, only 27 percent of the area's nurses had bachelor's degrees in nursing. Nationally, that number was 43 percent.

Chancellor Jane Upshaw rightly points out the need for nurses, given aging baby boomers and a local population that is growing proportionally older.

The 2010 census certainly bears that out. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of Beaufort County residents 55 or older grew from 31,437 to 55,191, a 76 percent increase.

In 2000, 26 percent of Beaufort County residents were 55 or older; in 2010, it was 34 percent.

The university has developed a program that reaches nurses who have a two-year degree, as well as those who are just starting out. A continuing education track helps nurses with associate degrees earn a bachelor's degree. A pre-licensure track focuses on incoming freshmen. At its southern Beaufort County campus, the university built a $2.2 million, 21,500-square-foot wing to house the program.

With the Technical College of the Lowcountry's two-year associate degree and practical nursing degree, we are well positioned to meet an increasing demand for nurses.

The Saturday Business Degree program recognizes the reality that many who would like to earn a degree must work a full-time job.

Students go to business classes on Saturdays in the two-year program. Saturday business students stick together as a cohort. Many also take evening courses during the week to meet their general education requirements, and the university has added some of the more popular courses to a Saturday schedule to make that easier to do.

The university's studio art program, which was approved in 2009, is a key component of the university's plan to transform its city of Beaufort location into a niche campus focused on fine arts education. It has invested more than $1 million in the Beaufort campus in the past year.

These are just three examples of the university's ability to respond to demand for educational programs, as well as develop demand for new programs.

Our investment in USCB is paying off.