Local lawmakers taking another run at granting College of Charleston research status

College of Charleston

COLUMBIA — A bill that would allow the College of Charleston to offer doctoral programs and become South Carolina’s fourth research university was introduced in the state House on Thursday.

The sponsors, Charleston state Reps. Jim Merrill, a Republican, and Leon Stavrinakis, a Democrat, shepherded a similar University of Charleston measure through the House last year. But the issue got bogged down in the Senate, where it eventually died.

College officials said they learned after last year’s legislative session ended that leaders at the state’s Commission on Higher Education said the school could attain research university status by simply changing its mission statement.

In September, the commission approved the school’s amended mission statement. But college President Glenn McConnell said it would be wise to pursue research university status through the commission and the General Assembly.

While commission officials said amending the statement is enough for the College of Charleston to become a research institution and offer doctoral programs, Merrill and other legislators disagree.

“They don’t have the authority to change the designation from a four-year college to a research university,” Merrill said. “If they started offering doctoral degrees, and hired the staff and created facilities to do that, all of a sudden it could be challenged and litigated.”

If the bill gets stalled, Merrill said he may push separate legislation that would allow the college to expand doctoral programs in specific areas.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.