Every few years the conversation begins anew about whether to merge the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.
And every time thus far — at least nine times — it has fizzled.
But the merger conversation this time seems to have momentum — at least enough momentum to drive serious consideration of the two institutions forming some kind of an alliance.
And there is good reason to think that it’s time to make it happen.
Both MUSC and the College of Charleston are searching for new presidents. In order to attract the best candidates, both schools should have clear visions of their futures.
Will they remain separate schools with good reputations? Or will they find a way to coalesce as a comprehensive research university?
Business leaders think it’s time to combine as an impressive university, which is able to attract highly talented students and faculty who benefit the region.
They say a comprehensive research university is a drawing card for new businesses and industries.
In addition, they say existing businesses need employees in specific fields like engineering and advanced sciences, but those people have to be found elsewhere because the academic programs do not exist here.
The College of Charleston is not allowed to offer doctoral programs, but if affiliated with MUSC, it could do so.
As state funding shrinks for both schools, they will need new sources of income. Tuition already has been raised more than it should have been.
Comprehensive universities have more options like research grants. And new degree programs also would bring new support.
It might seem as if joining forces would eliminate duplication and save money, but a white paper prepared by staff at the College of Charleston and MUSC dispels that notion. Actually, there would be additional costs were the schools to combine, it concluded.
The payoff would come through collaborative opportunities. Biochemistry at MUSC would benefit from a sister graduate level chemistry department. If the College of Charleston had a graduate school in chemistry, students would have tremendous opportunities for research with MUSC.
Teaching is highly valued at the College — a possible benefit to MUSC. Research is valued at MUSC — a possible benefit to the C of C.
It would be very important for the College to maintain its strength in the liberal arts. But much of the working world demands knowledge in sciences, engineering and information technology. As the local economy and the area’s business profile grow, it is important that regional schools produce graduates who are prepared to fill those jobs.
Indeed, Trident Technical College should be part of the discussion, with its mission to prepare students for the working world or to transfer for a four-year degree.
Designing and executing an alliance of the College of Charleston and MUSC would be challenging. Who will govern it? Where would additional programs go, since both schools are on the peninsula with limited land? The College of Charleston is in the middle of residential neighborhoods already feeling squeezed.
How will the separate missions be accommodated? Which functions can be combined, and which must remain independent? Are there really no savings to be realized from a merger?
But these two schools wouldn’t be the first to collaborate and face such issues. Others found good answers. MUSC and the C of C could too.
And as both schools examine their missions and goals in order to select new leadership, the opportunity to establish a permanent partnership of two fine institutions is too good to pass up.