SPARTANBURG, SC (courtesy goupstate.com) — Spartanburg Methodist College is “knee deep” in preparations to offer bachelor’s degrees.
SMC, which currently offers two-year associate’s degrees, has considered expanding to offer four-year degrees about a half dozen times since 1991, college President Scott Cochran said. But those ongoing talks, combined with changing demands from students, have become more serious recently.
“Over the years, there’s been five formal studies … of if SMC should offer a bachelor’s degree,” Cochran said. “There’s an opportunity to move forward that we’re exploring at this point. We are definitely knee deep in the work to prepare ourselves where we’re going to go with a four-year degree.”
Any bachelor’s degree options would first require approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, SMC’s accrediting organization.
Spartanburg Methodist wouldn’t require additional facilities to offer bachelor’s degree programs, Cochran said. That would speed up the process, possibly leading to bachelor’s programs being rolled out in fall 2019, when the crop of students who started college this year would be juniors.
Courtney Shelton, SMC vice president for professional development and design, said the college would focus on building programs based on what it already offers. Bachelor’s-level programs would incorporate the college’s focus on professional development, as well as elements from some specialized programs, into general education courses.
Elements of a communications program, for example, could be added to English and literature classes, Shelton said.
“That’s skills everybody needs,” she said. “OK, well, pick a character in this play or novel that you’re reading and pick a communications plan for that person. How are you going to persuade us to be in favor of this character? There’s ways we can incorporate those skills, like public speaking, into a history course.”
SMC will continue offering associate’s degrees if the bachelor’s-level expansion is approved.
Cochran said with the prevalence of dual-enrollment courses offered at high schools, many students start college with at least one course credit. That lends itself to students finishing a bachelor’s degree in less than four years, saving them money in the process, he said.
“If a student comes out of high school with an associate’s degree, they’re not going to take four years to get that bachelor’s (degree) under their belt,” he said.
If bachelor’s programs grow successfully, additional offerings could be added if demanded by students, and additional faculty members would be hired to fill those positions.
“We can design this, and if it’s designed well, it can grow to scale,” Shelton said. “It’s a benefit knowing up front that we won’t have to launch 29 different degrees, where we have to hire (for) every degree because it’s not something we currently have.”
Exact programs for a four-year degree haven’t been chosen yet, but students and faculty would have a major role in deciding what SMC aims to include.
Cochran said college administrators would lean on faculty, especially given the curriculum design that would have to be done to go from associate’s-level classes to bachelor’s-level classes.
“As far as what it’s going to be in the classroom and what subject and how it’s going to be designed, the only people who can do that in the best way is our faculty,” he said. “It’s like having a car without the wheels. The engine’s spinning but you’re not going anywhere. You have to have all the parts. Our faculty are the only ones who can do that curriculum design.”