COLUMBIA — Some applicants who fail to get into the University of South Carolina’s main Columbia campus will receive something else with their rejection letter starting next spring – an acceptance letter to one of the system’s four two-year campuses.
And, as early as 2015, USC could start sending automatic acceptance letters to the system’s three other four-year colleges in Aiken, Beaufort and Spartanburg to applicants who are denied admission to USC Columbia, administrators said.
The university now sends a brochure with information about the other USC system schools to applicants who are turned down for USC Columbia. But those students must apply separately to the other USC system schools.
USC administrators say the moves are just part of the state’s flagship college response to changes in the higher-education culture. The declining number of high school graduates now want colleges to cater to their time constraints and class schedules.
Over the past year, USC has expanded its summer classes into a more full third semester, started an online school called Palmetto College to let students complete their bachelor’s degrees and started offering online tools that can send an application to several university system campuses at once.
“We are trying to provide them with many different pathways to get their education,” USC vice president for student affairs Dennis Pruitt said. “The university is being much more flexible.”
Adding the acceptance letters to USC’s smaller campuses also might land a few more of the rejected Columbia applicants at those schools, which can accommodate more students.
Total enrollment was up by 7 percent at USC’s seven smaller campuses between 2008 and 2012 – just half of the growth rate at its Columbia campus during that time, according to state data. Two branch campuses, USC Aiken and USC Sumter, could use a boost in enrollments, as their student populations dropped during that period.
Meanwhile, room on the Columbia campus is getting tighter, with 6,000 students added over the past decade and a record freshman class of more than 5,000 this year.
The acceptance letters also could help soothe some bruised egos while spurring a new academic game plan for the rejected USC Columbia students, said Peter McPherson, president of Washington-based Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
“It cushions the blow. It’s not easy to get a rejection letter,” McPherson said, who said has not heard of many university systems using the alternative-acceptance method. “A pathway to success is easier if it’s laid out.”
The new program comes as USC saw a drop in the number of enrollments by transfer students last year.
The number of transfer students who enrolled in Columbia slid by 10 percent in 2012 over the previous year, ending a four-year growth streak in transfers, according to university data. The drop-off was sharper among transfer students from other USC system schools, with their numbers tumbling by 23 percent in 2012-13.
Having increased its enrollment to help make up for cuts in state money, USC also has a larger pool of denied Columbia applicants. The number of Columbia applicants students denied entry in the spring has more than doubled to 4,752 this year since 2009.
The school expects more students attending the system’s two-year colleges – Lancaster, Salkehatchie, Sumter and Union – to transfer to a four-year school in the university system for a chance to turn an associate’s degree into a more lucrative bachelor’s diploma.
Six out of 10 two-year college students nationwide go on to get four-year degrees, according to a study this summer from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Students are not just expected to just hop to Columbia but could land at USC’s other four-year colleges, which offer specialized programs including business and marine science.
College students are used to transferring to get the degree they want.
Nationwide, one-third of college students transferred schools at least once before getting a college degree – a practice known as swirling, according to a study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. One in four students transferred more than once.
In the program starting next spring, rejected Columbia applicants getting accepted to a two-year USC school will depend on several factors.
First, the students must meet the academic standards of the other USC school to receive an acceptance letter, administrators said.
If students also applied to another school in the USC system, they will receive an acceptance letter from that college. USC also will consider where applicants live and their desired majors in choosing which school they get into.
Working to win over more rejected Columbia students is just one of several ways USC wants to bring more students to its campuses.
The school has established bridge programs with technical colleges to provide two-year degrees, including one started last year in which students can live on the Columbia campus called Gamecock Gateway. Those students learn about the Columbia campus, which could lead them to apply to it to complete their bachelor’s degree.
USC is trying to become more transfer friendly with more advertising to students at community colleges “that we are going to be more receptive to them,” Pruitt said.
USC also will add a new online program next year that allows students to plug in their coursework and see how they are doing in qualifying for degrees.
“You had the horror stories of students taking so many hours and they didn’t count anywhere … and you certainly racked up a lot of time and effort, but you also spend a whole lot of money,” Palmetto College chancellor Susan Elkins said. “So we’re trying to be more proactive.”