History and firsts will be celebrated today when classes start at the Rock Hill college named for Caleb Isom Clinton.
It will be the 120th consecutive year the school has offered classes. It will be the first year, however, under the name Clinton College.
The former junior college now has four-year degree programs in business and religious studies, and its leaders anticipate some of the students already enrolled in those programs could graduate in May.
We are not confusing anymore, Clinton President Elaine Johnson Copeland said.
The junior college name was a relic of the past, she said, and some people thought we were something less than a college.
With the name change, the addition of faculty and, ideally, more students, she said, those negatives should go away.
This is good for the school and good for the community and good for the AME Zion Church, Copeland said.
The church is one of the major supporters of the college. The religious studies degree should help develop pastors for AME churches, she said.
The name change comes as administrators work to overcome financial setbacks.
Clinton lost federal money given to historically black colleges because it did not meet standards for students advancing to graduate schools, Copeland said. The decision cost the school a chance at a $5 million federal loan designated for historically black colleges.
The college also saw other federal money cut in half. A $1 million grant was cut to $500,000, and another from the Department of Energy for science education was reduced to $200,000 from $500,000.
Copeland said she hopes becoming a four-year college will open other avenues for fundraising.
To help with that and other campus awareness, the Clinton Alumni Association, which has been dormant for more than 13 years, has been revitalized.
Copeland said she expects enrollment to be between 165 and 170 students this fall, up from last years enrollment of 143. The school has set an enrollment goal of 200 students.
More students means some classes will be bigger, with one teacher per 20 or 25 students. Copeland said she prefers classes with a 1-to-15 ratio.
Vestiges of the junior college name remain on campus. College vans still bear the name Clinton Junior College and the banners on the campus say Clinton Junior College.
The sign on Crawford Road, however, says Clinton College. Next to it is a state historic marker detailing the history of Clinton Junior College.
What wont change, Copeland said, is how she interacts with the students. She still knows everyone by name and will stop them on campus to give them a hug.
Copeland and the staff will continue to give the students unconditional positive regard, she said, which means love, mentoring and building esteem and confidence in the students.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066