Over the past two centuries, The Citadel has transformed from an antebellum garrison charged with protecting the city from slave rebellions into a nationally ranked public college that caters to an increasingly diverse group of students, including minorities, women, veterans, active-duty members of the military and working professionals.
Key to The Citadel's future longevity, college officials say, is its willingness to evolve and adapt to the new needs of society.
“We’re listening to what the current needs of the world are and trying to be responsive and adaptable and changing," said Col. Mark A. Bebensee, The Citadel's associate provost for academic affairs. “We’re not encased in pre-Civil War concrete. We are moving ahead smartly to meet the demands of the 21st century.”
In recent years, The Citadel has launched or expanded programs in fast-growing fields, such as nursing and engineering.
Embracing its changing role in the post-9/11 era, The Citadel launched a new Department of Intelligence and Security Studies last year with coursework in cybersecurity, counterterrorism and military intelligence. As the Lowcountry braces for more development, The Citadel plans to start a new program in construction engineering next fall.
“We're constantly looking outward to all the industry, whether it’s when Boeing arrived and all of the companies that support the Boeing enterprise here, or Volvo or Continental Tire or Mercedes or Bosch or in any of those companies that are growing here," said Col. Ron Welch, dean of The Citadel's School of Engineering.
"Every one of them, we’ve gone out and talked to and said, 'So what do you need? What do you need in 20 years?'" he added.
Meanwhile, The Citadel faces many of the same challenges stressing colleges and universities across the country: the rising costs of doing business, dwindling state financial support, and a smaller pool of applicants amid declining birth rates and other pressures keeping high school graduates from going on to college.
“All of college and universities across the country are struggling a little bit with how do they explain to the public what distinguishes them from 30 other schools that are just like them?" Bebensee said. "One of the advantages The Citadel has is we don't have to struggle with explaining what makes us different.”
The Citadel is one of only six non-federal senior military colleges in the country and one of only two (the other being Virginia Military Institute) that immerses cadets in a 24-7 residential military-style environment.
While other comprehensive teaching institutions, such as the College of Charleston and Francis Marion University, have seen their enrollment numbers stagnate or decline in recent years, enrollment at The Citadel has grown almost 12 percent over the last decade, according to data from S.C. Commission on Higher Education.
And its student body is slowly getting more diverse.
In the fall, The Citadel enrolled one of its largest freshmen classes ever with 687 students. Of those, almost 10 percent were women and about 27 percent were racial and ethnic minorities. Last year, The Citadel hired a Latino student adviser for the Office of Multicultural Student Services and International Studies to help with an influx of Latino and Hispanic students.
"Not only is the number of young people that are going to go to college shrinking, that group is going to be more diverse," said Col. John Dorrian, The Citadel's vice president for communications and marketing.
The Citadel also will have to continue making do with fewer dollars from the General Assembly — state allocations to The Citadel dropped from $16 million in 2007 to $10 million last year. That means relying more alumni and donors to fund capital projects.
"Like a lot of other schools, I think one of our challenges is figuring out how to continue to do more and better things for our students at a time when state support for higher education is declining rather than increasing," Bebensee said. "How do we add new and better programs and yet keep tuition affordable for families?"
One part of The Citadel that's not expected to change anytime soon, Bebensee said, is the size of its undergraduate population, capped at 2,300 cadets.
"We're small enough that students know our teachers and teachers know our students," Bebensee said. "Hardly a week goes by that I don't have at least some contact with a former student. ... It's one of the great rewards of being at a smaller school."
Also not changing in the future, officials say, will be The Citadel's core values: honor, duty and respect.
"The core values of the college, I would expect those things to remain constant," Dorrian said. "They may continue to evolve in certain ways, but those those things are fundamental principles and that's who we are, what we do and why."