Skip to Content

Office of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Analytics

History of the University of South Carolina

Chartered in 1801 as South Carolina College, the University of South Carolina was the first state university to be supported continuously by annual state appropriations. In the years before the Civil War, it rapidly achieved a reputation for academic excellence in the classical tradition and was known as one of the best endowed and most distinguished colleges in the United States. Its faculty included Francis Lieber, editor of the Encyclopedia Americana and author of Civil Liberty and Self Government, the nationally known scientists John and Joseph LeConte, and chemist William Eller, who produced the first daguerreotype in the United States. By the 1830s, distinguished alumni almost literally filled the state's General Assembly. James H. Hammond and Wade Hampton were the most prominent of a parade of future governors, senators, judges, and generals who graduated during the ante-bellum period.

The pre-Civil War campus included Longstreet Theatre and all the buildings in the area known today as the Horseshoe (with the exception of McKissick Museum). When the voluntary enlistment of all students into the Army of the Confederacy forced the College to close in June of 1862, the buildings were used by the Confederate government as a hospital. By the time Sherman's army reached Columbia in February of 1865, the hospital containedwounded Union soldiers. A fire soon started that destroyed most of the city, but federal troops helped save the campus buildings from the flames.

After re-opening in 1865, the institution went through six reorganizations and name changes during the last decades of the 19th century, while legislators, administrators and faculties reassessed the institution's goals and struggled to define its mission. Finally in 1906, at the beginning of its second century, it was rechartered for the third, and last, time as the University of South Carolina, with a graduate school.

In sharp contrast to the South Carolina College's ante-bellum, elitist philosophy, President William Davis Melton in 1925 expressed a far-reaching principle that had emerged in the first quarter of the century: "Education is not a special privilege to be enjoyed by a special few." Thus, in its final reorganization, the University of South Carolina developed this institutional objective-to furnish both liberal and professional education to the people of South Carolina.

Efforts to achieve that objective were almost immediately hampered by the early arrival of the Great Depression in South Carolina. Enrollment declined, some courses eliminated, and buildings went without repairs. The situation improved greatly in the late 1930s because of grants from federal New Deal agencies. Then America entered World War II, and the campus was virtually transformed into a naval training base with payments from the Navy helping the school continue to function during the war years.

Fulfillment of the promise of the early years of the twentieth century began in earnest in the 1950s. Since then, dynamic academic expansion and the development of a state-wide network of campuses have produced highly diverse and innovative education programs. A commitment to graduate education along with involvement in major research programs has attracted an outstanding faculty. A recently adopted master plan for the campus environment and buildings will preserve the historic campus while providing new academic, residence, and campus life facilities by the turn of the century.

Today, the University serves the entire state and includes, in addition to the Columbia campus, two four-year campuses (Aiken and Spartanburg) and five regional campuses offering primarily two-year programs (Beaufort, Lancaster, Salkehatchie, Sumter and Union). Enrollment on all campuses totals over 35,000. Of these, nearly 24,000 students are on the Columbia campus, some 36 percent of whom are enrolled in graduate and professional programs. The University offers more than 360 degree programs, including 124 baccalaureate degree programs, 5 associate degree programs, 175 master's degree programs, 63 doctoral degrees, and 3 first professional degrees in law, medicine, and pharmacy. Many programs are nationally and internationally ranked, from the creative arts, liberal arts, health and physical sciences, to law, business and engineering. Regional campuses primarily offer associate degrees to students who may earn 60 hours of credit applicable toward a baccalaureate degree program. The four-year campuses, in addition to basic courses, primarily offer programs leading to the baccalaureate degree. Graduate courses are also offered at more than 50 sites throughout the state under the Graduate Regional Studies program administered by the Columbia campus. Other programs are broadcast via closed-circuit television from studio classrooms on the Columbia campus and through the state's ETV digital satellite network.

Coinciding with this statewide outreach program has been the establishment of South Carolina Honors College on the Columbia campus. The college is designed to offer academically gifted undergraduates the finest advantages of a small college in the context of a large comprehensive university.

The University's effort in the international area, particularly important to the state's development of foreign trade and investment, continues to expand; academic exchange programs and research linkages have been established with European, African, and South American universities, as well as with China and Japan.

In keeping with both its 19th and its 20th century heritage, the University continues to promote academic excellence while responding progressively to its educational responsibilities and the citizens of South Carolina. In the 2000s, it has committed itself to earning a place in the Association of American Universities (AAU), which includes 60 of the finest institutions of higher learning in America. Pursuing this goal, the University aspires to build upon its commitment to enhancing not only our students' knowledge, understanding, and economic viability, but also their sense of character, empathy, and mutual respect. Such ambitions and ideals were cornerstones of the original college and remain fundamental to the University's purpose in South Carolina and society.