SPARTANBURG, S.C. (courtesy smcsc.edu) — Spartanburg Methodist College has announced it has exceeded a goal to grow its student body to 1,000 by 2020. 1,025 full-time new, returning and transfer students are enrolled at SMC this fall, and they are the largest student population in the college’s 109-year history.
This is the fourth straight year of record enrollment growth at the college and a 39 percent increase in study body size since 2016, when enrollment dropped to 736 full-time students.
That same year, President Scott Cochran, who had been in his new role for just a few months, announced the college would grow to 1,000 students by 2020. As a first step, he made immediate investments in marketing and recruitment. Working with faculty, administrators and the college’s Board of Trustees, Cochran led planning to expand the college’s academic offerings to meet changing student needs. In 2018, the college announced it would launch its first online associate degree and a unique on-ground bachelor’s degree with a focus on career preparation. Both programs began enrolling students in 2019. This fall, the college began accepting students into a second 100% online degree – an Associate in Arts (general college studies program).
“The most important thing for everyone at SMC has always been serving the students who depend on us for an affordable and high-quality education,” Cochran said. “Accomplishing this enrollment goal is an important milestone for our campus community after four years of incredibly hard work and significant change. In the middle of a global pandemic, we’re just as proud that students and parents have placed their trust in us to provide that education as safely as possible.”
Fall classes began on August 19 after a phased move-in to campus residence halls. Students, staff and faculty follow a rigorous set of safety protocols that include required mask use, daily symptom checks and social distancing. Resident and commuter students taking in-person classes also must be tested weekly for COVID-19.
When planning to reopen, administrators not only considered the needs of students who wanted in-person classes, but also those who might not want to return to campus due to fears about COVID-19, says Ben Maxwell, Vice President for Enrollment. “We knew some students would feel more comfortable staying home or might have no choice but to stay home due to illness or quarantine,” he says. “We didn’t want their education interrupted this semester and felt certain giving them the choice of in-person or online was the right thing to do. Students have the option of taking their fall classes either way.”
To serve students face-to-face and virtually, faculty spent a good portion of their summers preparing fall courses for online and in-person delivery. Dr. Mark Gibbs, Provost and Executive Director of Academic Affairs, says many professors spent countless hours filming video lectures, navigating an unfamiliar virtual learning environment, and planning courses that students could access in-person, online or, in some cases, both. “Our safety plan includes social distancing in our classrooms, so we’re seating about half the normal number of students at any given time,” he said. “We have students learning in a traditional classroom on some days and online on others. And some students who are online for the entire semester. Our faculty have worked very hard to meet the needs of all students.”
For sophomore David Hawkins of Spartanburg, living on campus is worth the safety restrictions. “It’s good to be back on campus again, and I’m glad SMC has guidelines to keep us safe while also giving us a bit of normalcy,” he said. “It’s easier for me and many others to learn in the classroom, so having some classroom time and being able to stay on campus to help me focus has been an immense blessing.”
A look at the numbers, which do not include students enrolled in SMC’s 100% online degree programs:
- 518 freshmen started classes on Wednesday, August 19 – the largest freshman class in the college’s history.
- The new freshmen, plus re-admitted students and transfer students, make up the largest incoming class in the college’s history (563).
- 91 students are enrolled in the college’s year-old BA program.
- SMC’s total student body is 1,025, the largest in the history of the college.