A key Senate leader says he doubts a plan to expand graduate offerings at the College of Charleston will pass during this legislative session, but some House members remain hopeful.

A House panel last week backed off a plan to merge the college with the Medical University of South Carolina and instead backed the formation of the University of Charleston as a standalone research university.

Under the plan, the college would retain its liberal arts core, but could begin offering advanced degrees, including doctoral programs, targeted to the needs of the region.

But state Sen. John Coursen, R-Columbia, a key Senate leader, said it's doubtful there's enough time for the bill to move forward during the current legislative session. "I think the time restraints would almost preclude it," he said. "The chances of it passing this year would be remote."

The current legislative session ends in June. Bills that don't pass would have to be re-filed next year.

State House leaders expect the measure to pass in the House. With key leaders such as House Speaker Bobby Harrell behind it, lawmakers expect it to move quickly through that body.

Rep. Jim Merrill, a Charleston Republican and one of the lawmakers championing the research university plan, said he's not giving up on the Senate.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, the newly hired president of the College of Charleston, holds a lot of sway in that chamber, Merrill said, and he hopes McConnell will push for the bill.

McConnell was a state senator for more than three decades, the last 11 as president pro tempore. But state law about two years ago required him to move into the lieutenant governor's office when Ken Ard resigned after being indicted for ethics violations.

"I'm not going to give up on the Senate," Merrill said.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837 and Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.