I am honored, humbled, and excited to be your new chancellor!
These first six months have been a whirlwind of getting to know the people who make USC Upstate a stellar university, building relationships in the community, assessing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges, and setting a vision for the future.
One of my first actions was to add the academic deans, and faculty and staff senate chairs, to the Chancellor’s Cabinet and take them on a working retreat. The focus of that retreat was to think collaboratively and articulate a transformative value proposition for USC Upstate.
As this diverse leadership group deliberated, I was impressed. These are people who deeply care about students and the university. We talked a lot about the impact we should have on the Upstate region. The result of that process was this phrase:
“Education for all that inspires a just and thriving society.”
USC Upstate is well-positioned to fulfill this value proposition. We’re the No. 1 public university in South Carolina for the third consecutive year and No. 2 among public universities in the South, according to U.S. News and World Report.
USC Upstate is also the top-ranked public institution in South Carolina on CollegeNet’s Social Mobility Index, or SMI. The SMI measures the extent to which the university educates more economically disadvantaged students at lower tuition, so they can graduate and secure well-paying jobs.
Clearly, our faculty and staff do a great job in preparing students for post-graduate life, positioning them for increased generational wealth and mobility, heightened health and education outcomes, and to adapt and excel in professions that have yet to be conceived.
But even with this academic muscle and social commitment, achieving our transformative value proposition is a lofty goal that will be determined by our success in student enrollment, retention, and innovation.
Assessing the value of a four-year degree, a 2019 Forbes magazine article proclaimed, “There’s no better investment return than college — not even close.” The Social Security Administration reports that men with bachelor’s degrees earn about $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates, and women earn about $630,000 more. It’s even higher for those with graduate degrees.
Still, enrollment and retention are significantly declining at universities across the nation and USC Upstate is not immune to this trend. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many students to put off enrolling or to leave school before completing their degrees.
Public policy also plays a large role, as governments continue to shift the burden of paying for public education from the taxpayer to families, which is compounded by tuition increases. This means that students, especially the economically disadvantaged, must secure increasingly substantial loans to make college accessible. When they graduate — as they most often will at USC Upstate — they face years of loan payments rather than increasing their personal wealth proposition or starting a business.
This may contribute to the fact that minorities are not broadly participating in the Upstate region's entrepreneurial growth. In Spartanburg County alone, the number of Black-owned nonemployer businesses is nearly 30 percent below the national average while the number of White, non-Hispanic businesses is within 95 percent of the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Annual Business Survey and Nonemployer Statistics by Demographics.
Recently, I convened the REIMAGINE Enrollment Summit, during which our faculty and staff considered these challenges and created exciting strategies to increase enrollment and retention. The university is already focused on innovation, as evidenced by recent or new, market-driven degree programs in cybersecurity, exercise science and business analytics.
We have plenty of opportunities to grow. In Spartanburg County, only 25 percent of persons aged 25 and above have earned a bachelor’s degree. Clearly, we have to make a college degree more accessible, more attractive and more valuable — not just for the sake of the university, but for the economic growth and well-being of the region.
Michelangelo is quoted as saying, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low, and we reach it.” At USC Upstate, we have set the target high, and we aim to reach it. Again, I am grateful to join with you on this journey and to be part of the USC Upstate community. Go Spartans!
Bennie L. Harris, Ph.D.
Bennie L. Harris, Ph.D.
Pam Steinke, Ph.D.
Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Daniel Feig, J.D.
Director of Athletics and Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics
Interim Vice Chancellor for University Advancement and Executive Director of University Foundations
Robert Katz, Ph.D.
Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer
Vice Chancellor for Admissions and Enrollment Services
Vice Chancellor for External Affairs and Chief of Staff
Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration
Nicholas Kehrwald, J.D.
Dean of Students
Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Director of Special Projects, & Title IX Coordinator
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Regional Engagement and Executive Director of USC Upstate Greenville Campus
Kim Purdy, Ph.D.
Dean of University College and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Khrystal Smith, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Engagement and Retention Initiatives
SPARTANBURG COUNTY COMMISSION FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
David L. Church ’92, D.H.A., Chair
Milton A. “Chip” Smith Jr. ’78, Vice Chair
Victor P. Austin Jr. ‘90
William R. Cobb ‘74
Renee Dean ‘03
David L. Eubanks, Ed.D
Ronald Garner ’94, Ed.D.
Harold D. McClain
Dr. Henry “Hank” Jolly Jr.
Jane Bottsford ‘69
James R. Smith ‘72
Toney J. Lister, Esq.
USC System Board of Trustees