COLUMBIA — University of South Carolina student body treasurer Alesha Brown kept getting text messages Friday from students wanting to know if the news was true.

Word spread quickly on campus that university President Andrew Sorensen had announced his retirement.

"It's a big deal," said Brown, a 2005 graduate of Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston. "We're going to miss him."

Sorensen, 69, who became president in 2002, plans to step down July 31 but will stay on until his replacement is named. He expects to remain at the university full time, although he said Friday he was unprepared to say exactly what his future role will be. He did disclose that it will involve administrative responsibilities and faculty service.

"After considerable discussion, we have come to the inescapable conclusion that it is time to pass the baton of the presidency," Sorensen said of himself and his wife, Donna. "We could not have asked for, nor been granted, a more caring and supportive community."

Sorensen decided to relinquish the presidency before the start of a seven-year capital campaign so that the fundraising effort could be led by a president who is able to see it through.

Sorensen, who was wearing a gold and blue bow tie, also noted the wearisome social calendar of a university president, adding that he and his wife welcomed 17,000 guests into their home last year.

Sorensen's legacy will be highlighted by the school's academic strides, as admission standards and student grade-point averages increased under his watch. He also is credited with helping create an innovative research campus in downtown Columbia, starting a tuition-free program for the state's neediest students and forging a transfer agreement between USC and the state's technical colleges.

Sorensen also played a role in forming the S.C. College of Pharmacy, a partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina.

Brown said many students will remember Sorensen as a man with an uncanny ability to remember their names and recall details important in their lives.

"That's one of the greatest things about him," Brown said.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said Sorensen's presidency will be marked by his leadership, the stability he offered and his effort to always strive for excellence.

"Over the years, we went from a time when the administration was rocked by scandal to a time under Sorensen that we've become one of the premier universities in the country," said Limehouse, who prepares the first draft of the state's higher education budget.

Sorensen, who earns $552,482, said his success was built on that of his predecessors. Sorensen took the reins from John Palms, who helped rebuild what Palms called the university's "moral authority" after a financial scandal brought down the previous president and shook the university's credibility.

He also led the school through a difficult period this fall after six USC students were killed in a beach house fire in North Carolina. A seventh student from Clemson University also perished.

USC, the state's largest university, has more than 27,000 students and more than 1,600 faculty members at its main campus in Columbia. It has a medical school and a law school.

Sorenson helped the school improve its position as a research university by attracting private investment to the $250 million Innovista campus in downtown Columbia. He also helped USC boost its donations from $16 million last year to $36 million this year. And he nearly doubled the number of donors to more than 20,000.

Trustee John C. von Lehe Jr., a Charleston attorney who represents Charleston and Berkeley counties on the USC board, said Sorensen's service will be underscored by his character.

"His tenure was guided by morality and decency," von Lehe said. "He instilled basic values at the school. He always put the students first. He loved the students."

College of Charleston President P. George Benson said it was a privilege to work with Sorensen.

"Andy Sorensen has been a valuable leader, not just for the University of South Carolina, but for the state's entire higher education system," Benson said in a statement. "He has reached out to other institutions, including the College of Charleston, to create new and enhanced educational opportunities for South Carolina's citizens."

Sorensen, an ordained minister, had previously served as the president of the University of Alabama and provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Florida, among other notable positions.

Andrew A. Sorensen

AGE: 69

HOMETOWN: Pittsburgh

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in history from the University of Illinois, bachelor's of divinity in ethics from Yale University, master's in health behavior and health education from the University of Michigan, master's in medical sociology from Yale and doctorate in medical sociology from Yale.

CAREER: Named president of the University of South Carolina in 2002. Served six years as president at the University of Alabama. He also was director of the School of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, executive director of the AIDS Institute at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Florida.

FAMILY: Married to Donna Ingemie; two sons, Aaron and Ben.