COLUMBIA - A key S.C. House committee moved along a bill Tuesday that would create the Lowcountry's first comprehensive research university, as the panel embraced a compromise that would allow a newly expanded University of Charleston to offer more post-graduate programs.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed H. 4632 on a voice vote. The measure would allow for the University of Charleston-South Carolina to become the state's fourth major research university. The school would exist as a separate entity from the College of Charleston, and the college's liberal arts degree programs would not be affected by the bill, lawmakers have said. The new school would be overseen by the College of Charleston's Board of Trustees.

The bill has morphed since it was first introduced. Charleston Republican Rep. Jim Merrill and Democratic Rep. Leon Stavrinakis originally filed a bill that would have merged the College of Charleston and Medical University of South Carolina, a plan that saw backlash from both schools.

The new measure now has both schools' support and also calls on the two institutions to find ways to collaborate. There is no new funding tied to the bill. The University of Charleston would have to compete for the same resources as all of the other schools, lawmakers said.

"There is a need for advanced degrees in the Lowcountry that aren't offered now," Stavrinakis said in an interview. The region's workforce needs aren't being met, he said. "We had to fix that."

A diverse seven-member committee had formulated the new structure, holding several hearings to assess what the state and Charleston region needed from a new school. The fact that the group - which was divided on whether to merge C of C and MUSC - could produce a compromise earned praise from other legislators. "Out of controversy comes some good things," said Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, the Ways and Means chairman.

The University of South Carolina, Clemson and MUSC are the state's other comprehensive research universities.

The bill now moves to the House floor and could see a vote this week.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.