So the College of Charleston is working on a new way to increase diversity on campus.

That's good news, and probably comes as a surprise to all those folks who stood around protesting the college earlier this year.

But it shouldn't.

People have complained for years that the college has recruited out-of-state kids at the expense of making room for more Lowcountry students. As a result, only about 6 percent of the school's student population is black, which seems woefully inadequate since about 30 percent of South Carolina's population is African-American.

Back in the spring, a lot of people said the school's diversity was going to get worse after the Board of Trustees hired former Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as president.

They said McConnell's work preserving Civil War history would hurt the college's efforts to recruit minorities.

That's called stereotyping, something those protesters claim to abhor.

This week the college announced a pilot program to not only increase diversity, but also give more local high school graduates a shot at going to at the college.

That's a big deal, and should help C of C tremendously.

It's funny how much difference a few months can make.

On the money

A few weeks after McConnell took the helm at C of C, he started giving away money from his campaign account.

He donated thousands to churches, animal rescue groups and, yes, some historic battlefield preservations groups. It's worth noting he gave none of it to politicians.

But the biggest outlay from his defunct war chest was $110,000 to the College of Charleston for minority scholarships. To put that in perspective, the college - as part of its ongoing efforts to increase diversity - recently earmarked $125,000 for minority scholarships. McConnell nearly matched that amount, doubling the fund.

This week, McConnell announced the pilot program that would automatically accept any students from five Lowcountry counties that graduate in the top 10 percent of their class. The idea came from a panel of students, faculty and staff created under past President George Benson.

But when the recommendation was made to the administration, McConnell immediately embraced it.

"I think it will help diversity at the College of Charleston, not only in recruitment, but in retention," says John Bello-Ogunu, the college's chief diversity officer. "This kind of initiative will enhance access to higher education to not only minority students, but all well-deserving Lowcountry high school students."

McConnell says this program sends exactly the message the college wants to get out there.

"It reminds students of the opportunities there are in the Lowcountry, and it tells them we're an option," he says.

It is a good idea - and even some of the people who questioned McConnell's appointment gave the initiative high marks.

That speaks volumes.

A priority

Of course, McConnell is not doing all this on his own.

There are a lot of people working on the diversity problem, and they have been for a long time - without a tremendous amount of success. As McConnell says, it feels like the college has gone backwards.

But in just two months, two major announcements have things looking up for diversity. And it certainly helps to have an administration that supports those efforts.

Now, critics will say that after the protests in the spring, McConnell had to focus on diversity. But fact is, during his long political career, McConnell always appeared mindful of equity and equality. His supporters said he would be no different at the college, and McConnell himself said he would make it a priority.

And obviously he has.

The next step is for McConnell to convince the faculty to adopt this new program, and Bello-Ogunu expects he will have no trouble. Both would like to see the program, if successful, expanded throughout the state eventually.

Bello-Ogunu believes the program will increase diversity - it has worked in other places - and the College of Charleston will begin to more closely mirror the community.

That has long been a goal of many folks, some of whom assumed earlier this year that such a lofty goal was gone with the wind.

It's funny how much difference a few months can make.

Reach Brian Hicks at