COLUMBIA - State higher education leaders expressed enthusiasm Thursday for a plan that would expand graduate offerings at the College of Charleston, while also saying that the state needs to stay consistent with how it handles such matters.

Members of the Commission on Higher Education said they were pleased to see new C of C President Glenn McConnell at the meeting. They praised him and a plan that would change the college's mission statement to allow it to add post-graduate programs under a newly expanded University of Charleston.

To do so, the college needs an affirmative vote from the commission, something officials said could be scheduled for next month or October.

Businesses in the area have long said that there are huge gaps in the area workforce, and officials say it would also help the college attract private donations.

"The sense of the committee is that limited Ph.D. programs in Charleston are a good thing," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Charles Munns, who serves on the commission. "We can say that today ... so we have foundation in going forward."

Steps remain, however, and commissioners said they would push college officials for specifics, including any effect on undergraduate tuition.

Commissioner Bettie Rose Horne said that higher education officials need to ensure a consistent process so that other schools are treated fairly.

"If (the process) allows one institution ... there are nine others chomping at the bit," Horne said. "What you've done is just reorganized the entire state."

Still, Horne said that C of C officials should get started on answering the commission's questions and even provide the commission with specifics on what its first new Ph.D. offerings would be.

McConnell said in an interview that C of C's goals were not sweeping.

"The college does not wish to be a Clemson or Carolina," McConnell said. "We wish to preserve our liberal arts core. We need a green light to go forward."

McConnell said that the newly expanded post-graduate offerings, housed at the college, would be different from most schools. "This is unique," McConnell said. "The University of Charleston is a component of the College of Charleston."

The school didn't have an official place on the day's agenda, but commissioners were happy to see McConnell and many shook hands and chatted with the longtime Charleston senator and recent lieutenant governor.

Unprompted, Commissioner Temple Hood welcomed McConnell to the meeting, praising him for his leadership and example in the state Senate. "I tell you what, it is exciting to know that as my children grow up we will point to ... McConnell and say, 'This is the kind of person you need to emulate.' "

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.