Many challenges await Al Panu, the new chancellor for the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
Arguably the most formidable is the university's 10 percent graduation rate -- the lowest among the state's 12 four-year public colleges. Nationally, about 30 percent of college students graduate in four years.
Outgoing chancellor Jane Upshaw, set to retire this month, attributes the disappointing rate to USCB's relatively recent accreditation as a baccalaureate institution.
Students have only been able to earn four-year degrees at the school since 2004. Prior to that only two-year degrees were offered.
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While more than a decade has passed, Upshaw says USCB is still fighting to secure funding parity with the other schools, to attract the attention of prospective students who are still unaware that USCB offers four-year programs and to attract quality students who are truly college material and will complete degrees at USCB instead of transferring to another school once their core course work is complete.
We appreciate Upshaw's points. Indeed, many in our community still view USCB as a feeder school where students start degrees but go elsewhere to complete them.
That's a dated notion of USCB that likely affects its ability to attract and retain the best and brightest students. The local community should alter its thinking and acknowledge the school as a stand-alone four-year institution worthy of consideration by far more prospective college students.
However, these explanations for the low graduation rate seem based more on assumptions and beliefs than statistics and facts. Thus, we're not convinced that more time is the full cure for the school's low graduation rate.
A decade of offering baccalaureate degrees seems adequate time to inch closer to the rates seen by other schools in the USC system. That includes USC Upstate's 40 percent graduation rate and USC Aiken's 50 percent rate.
We're inclined to believe Michelle Cooper, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy, who said the low rate is likely a symptom of a systemic problem.
We urge Panu, as he acquaints himself with his new university home and spearheads improvement efforts, to take Cooper's point into consideration. He and other university leaders must dig deep to determine all contributors to the disappointing rate and create an improvement plan.
Upshaw has said part of the solution is securing more state dollars. Currently, USCB receives $1,990 per student from the state compared to the state average of about $3,000 per student.
But the first order of business must be to identify the problems contributing to the low graduation rate. Simply throwing money at the problem does not guarantee improvement.
We look to Panu and other university leaders to immediately tackle the problem. They must not let another decade pass without marked improvement.