The Charleston area’s steady rise to world recognition has reached a crescendo.
The economy is strengthening with the presence of new and expanding business and industry. The port is growing. The arts are thriving. And the beautifully-preserved historic city and its natural surrounds have been named the world’s top tourist destination.
Now efforts are being made to bump the local higher-education profile up to a new level.
It’s a worthy goal being considered at the right time. And while it would be a major undertaking, merging the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston would be an effective way to do it.
The College of Charleston has grown in stature, and the Medical University is often recognized nationally for excellence in health care and research.
MUSC President Ray Greenberg and College President George Benson agree that together, the two schools could offer more Ph.D. programs, widen their scope of studies and give this dynamic city a world-class comprehensive research university.
The Citadel, Trident Tech, Charleston Southern, the Charleston School of Law and the American College of the Building Arts would continue to contribute to the vibrancy of higher education in the Lowcountry.
And the research university — call it Charleston University for now — could make a dramatic impact on science, medicine, technology, scholarship and even the local economy.
Boeing’s growing presence in the Charleston area already has driven changes in what Trident Technical College offers. And as more industry — and more sophisticated enterprises — choose this area, the demand for more highly educated people will grow.
Dr. Benson tells us that a local businessman said he would immediately hire 200 College of Charleston graduates with degrees in computer science if they were available. Last year, 21 computer science majors graduated.
That need will only grow as Boeing relocates a third of its information technology department here, and Google grows at its Berkeley County site.
Early conversations involving the two institutions, their alumni and faculty, the city of Charleston and numerous businesses have indicated an appetite for a merger of the two colleges because of the promise that a merger — or extensive collaboration — could benefit both schools.
The College of Charleston, prohibited by law from offering Ph.D.s, would be able to do so in conjunction with MUSC.
And MUSC could find resources at the College as medical studies involve more computer science and physics.
Together, MUSC and the College of Charleston would be in a better position to attract grants and corporate support — increasingly important as state financial support has shrunk.
The idea of a merger isn’t new, but it appears more of a possibility now than ever before.
Both MUSC and the College have established committees to explore the idea of a merger.
Dr. Benson believes the basic merger could be done in a year.
Dr. Greenberg, who has additional insight after having overseen the merger of two pharmacy schools, believes it would take longer. Any such merger would be very complex and would require approval by both boards, the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting organization and the state Legislature.
Additionally, the plan should be designed with community input — particularly as regards Charleston’s historic district. Ten thousand undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff already present traffic, parking, noise and livability issues.
Dr. Benson says new growth would not be downtown, but perhaps on the Neck area farther up the peninsula. Neighbors should be part of any expansion dialogue and be asssured that already stressed neighborhoods aren’t further affected.
A merger would require cooperation, study and firm community support. But providing the Charleston area with a comprehensive research university befitting its global standing makes it worthwhile.