I read with interest your editorial "Does Mount Pleasant really need FMU?" The real question is "Does Metropolitan Charleston Really Need FMU?" The answer to that question is a resounding "Yes."
I recently retired to the Charleston area after 35 years in higher education where I served as faculty, department chair, assistant dean and associate dean.
I do have roots here as my doctorate is from USC, three of our children were born here and we chose to return to South Carolina when we retired. But our return to South Carolina gives me something of a "Man from Mars" perspective on this issue.
First, let us briefly look at the four traditional undergraduate institutions in metropolitan Charleston (In alphabetical order):
1) Charleston Southern University: A fine private institution, with a religious component. Certainly a good thing, but not for everyone. As a private school, expenses are certain to be higher, and, therefore, out of reach for at least some students from the Charleston area;
2) The Citadel: An historic institution with a very specific mission. Obviously, serving a very specific purpose and, as they would readily agree, not for everyone;
3) College of Charleston: A school that has attained a national reputation with, as I have read in this newspaper, half of the students coming from outside of South Carolina. C of C, for a number of understandable reasons, is seeking to become a school with a national presence;
4) Trident Technical College: A two-year institution specializing in career programs and transfer to four-year colleges. There is a lot this school offers, but you cannot get a B.A. here.
We came here from Connecticut, and I can tell you that the College of Charleston is an "in" school in the Northeast. An "in" school is a highly desirable university for high school seniors to attend upon graduation. For many state schools, out-of-state students are more attractive than in-state students because they often pay full, much higher, tuition, especially in this era of decreased state support.
So schools actively recruit students from out-of-state. If they are successful, they can become an "in" school, such as the University of Virginia, William and Mary, University of North Carolina, and yes, the College of Charleston.
This also means that admission to the institution is are more competitive, so grades and test scores need to be higher to gain admittance.
In the case of students from the Charleston metropolitan area, those other schools require students to leave home.
This is an added expense for the students and their families. It also hurts the Charleston area in the long run as many students will start and continue their careers where they went to college. So many students in that group will not be coming back.
In addition, the Charleston area is scheduled to grow significantly over the next 20 years and additional educational opportunities are going to be needed for students and to attract business and industry to the region. Industry looks for quality of life for itself and its employees. A part of that quality of life is the availability of educational opportunities.
The Charleston metropolitan area is currently missing a public, four-year higher education institution that directly serves the needs of the Charleston metropolitan area.
The College of Charleston may protest that assertion, but when half of the nearly 12,000 students come from outside the state, let alone the Charleston area, then one has to wonder about the commitment of the school to the needs of Charleston.
What else would explain at least three private universities: St. Leo, Webster, and Southern Wesleyan with branch operations in the Charleston area? Also, there are at least six for-profit colleges.
If there was not a market, a need, then these out-of-area institutions with their higher tuition would not be in Charleston serving the people of the region.
Charleston, not just Mount Pleasant, needs a public four-year institution of higher education dedicated to the needs of its residents, taxpayers, graduating seniors, and workers who want to begin or complete their degrees.
The students the facility in Mount Pleasant will attract will come not just from Mount Pleasant, but from Goose Creek, Summerville, Moncks Corner, and yes, even Charleston. A metropolitan area the size of Charleston needs and can support a college whose mission is to directly serve the people of the community.
"Does Metropolitan Charleston Really Need FMU?"
Fred Maidment, Ed.D.