When the University Center of Greenville was established three decades ago, Greenville was the largest metropolitan area in the Southeast without a four-year public higher education institution.
The idea was to give residents a place to take classes and earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from well-ranked, accredited colleges and universities in South Carolina in fields that aligned with the Upstate’s job market without actually having to leave Greenville, their full-time jobs, and their families.
Today, about 500 students each year get degrees that were largely or completely earned at the University Center.
“The impact of what we’re doing here is of a significant regional university and all of the graduates are from here,” said David A. Taylor, CEO and president of the UCG. “We focus on degrees that are aligned to our actual job market in the greater Greenville area. ”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, an estimated 64,572 Greenville County residents 25 years or older have some college but no degree. Why is it important that those residents get a college degree? As a person’s educational attainment rises, so does their income. And as educational attainment rises, the likelihood of unemployment falls.
According to the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, the average worker with a bachelor’s degree will earn 35 percent more than someone with an associate degree. The average master’s degree holder will earn 17 percent more than somebody with a bachelor’s degree. And the average doctoral degree holder will earn 33 percent more than those with a master’s degree.
Greenville County has made some progress in increasing the percentage of college-educated residents. The 2016 American Community Survey estimates that 32.9 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s up from 26.2 percent of residents in the 2010 Census.
“It’s growing, but it’s growing too slowly,” Taylor said.
So is per capita income, a primary measure of an area’s economic competitiveness, although Greenville has made some progress. The problem is, however, that other major economic centers in the Southeast are making progress, too, and often at rates greater than Greenville’s.
“We lag significantly behind other major economic centers in the Southeast on both fronts,” Taylor said. “Greenville is prospering, but there’s an opportunity for much greater prosperity.”
A 2012 study by the College of Charleston’s Riley Center identified greater Greenville’s top education needs as education, health professions, and business.
Multiple members of UCG — Clemson University, Anderson University, University of South Carolina Upstate, Furman University, and Converse College — offer education degrees or soon will be.
In the health-care field, Clemson University, the University of South Carolina Upstate, and Anderson University offer undergraduate and graduate degrees at UCG.
Three of Greenville’s largest business programs either began or continue to be at UCG. Clemson and the University of South Carolina’s MBA programs in Greenville grew at UCG before moving to downtown. Anderson University currently offers an MBA program and a bachelor’s in business administration program at UCG.
“We’ve fostered the growth of MBA programs in Greenville,” Taylor said.
One critical need in Greenville is for bachelor’s completion programs in business, he said.
“According to Commission on Higher Education data, 24 percent of all undergraduate degrees earned in South Carolina are in business,” he said. “Greenville is the business center of the state, and the number of accredited bachelor of business degrees in greater Greenville is very anemic. They are small programs with small enrollments.”
Taylor said when he talks to business leaders, they identify accounting, supply chain, finance economics, and marketing as high-demand degrees. General business, general business administration, health care management, human resources, management, and international business are also in demand, he said.
“The University Center is the best way to address those demands,” Taylor said.
UCG has a strategy to address the need for bachelor degree completion programs in business, and he said Anderson University, Furman University, USC Upstate, and Converse all want to play a role.
UCG has added academic programs every year since 2012, according to Taylor.
“If you pick the right major and attend an accredited, well-ranked university and you put in the effort to get good grades, there’s no doubt education pays,” he said.
To illustrate the point, Taylor said using UCG’s average of 487 annual new degree holders and the average increased yearly wage for each educational level according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those new degree holders have an opportunity to earn more than $1 billion in income over a rolling 15-year period.