FLORENCE — Francis Marion University’s satellite campus in Mount Pleasant could open as early as next fall, but town leaders still don’t know exactly where it will be located.
The university’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Friday to accept Mount Pleasant’s offer to open a campus in the town. And town leaders said they are considering several options, but they haven’t yet made a final decision on a location.
Francis Marion President Fred Carter said school leaders now will sit down with town officials to decide what to offer there. But, he said, all programs will serve the immediate needs of the local workforce.
“The board says go ahead,” so that’s what university leaders will do, he said.
Earlier this year, Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails said he invited Francis Marion to open the campus because he was tired of hearing parents tell him that the area lacked a local public option for their children to earn bachelor’s degrees.
The upscale community east of the Cooper River is the fourth-largest city in the state, and it has a great public high school, Swails said. But many of its graduates have to leave the area to earn a four-year degree from a public institution, despite having decent grades.
Many local students aren’t accepted at the College of Charleston, a liberal arts school on the peninsula with a growing national reputation, Swails has said. The college enrolls large numbers of high-achieving, out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition rates, and in most cases requires students to have high SAT scores, he said.
Carter said the university plans to collaborate in some way with the College of Charleston on the East Cooper campus. The provosts from both schools will meet next week to discuss options.
The university plans to grow the new campus gradually, slowly adding new programs, Carter said. The first program it will put in place is a bachelor of science in nursing degree for students who already hold two-year registered nursing degrees. That program could open as early as next fall, he said.
Francis Marion will have some start-up costs, Carter said, although he’s not yet certain how much they will be. “But we believe the programs will be self-sustaining.”
Eric DeMoura, administrator for the town of Mount Pleasant, said town leaders “are doing our due diligence to find a location.” It’s too early to say which locations the town is considering, he said, because that might hurt its negotiating position. The town has committed to providing the space for the new campus. It also will cover the cost, he said. “This is good news. We’re excited about it,” DeMoura said of the new campus.
Mayor-elect Linda Page, who will take office Tuesday, said she supports the campus. There are higher education opportunities in the Charleston area, she said. “But more students will have opportunities for higher education with the new campus.”
Julie Carullo, spokeswoman for the state’s Commission on Higher Education, said Swails has sent a letter to the commission making it aware of the proposal, but the commission can’t weigh in until there’s a solid plan for the campus.
The commission must approve new facilities, leases and new academic programs, Carullo said. But she’s not yet sure what kind of commission approval the new campus would need.
Randy Dozier, chairman of Francis Marion’s board, said the university focuses on serving South Carolina residents. So the Mount Pleasant campus is “in keeping with what we do here.”
The town wanted to provide higher education opportunities for local students, he said. And that’s what Francis Marion does well. “It wasn’t our idea,” he said, “but it’s a great idea.”