Clinton College celebrates 125 years
Clinton College won’t look the same in five years. The school’s leaders envision an expanded campus, online programs, improved athletics offerings and more.
Clinton College students and staff are celebrating the 125-year anniversary of the historically black college in Rock Hill. Clinton was established in 1894 by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
Clinton President Lester McCorn said the anniversary is a chance to honor the school’s past while looking to its future. McCorn was named Clinton’s 13th president in August 2018 after serving as acting leader for a year.
The school was Clinton Normal and Industrial Institute in 1909 and changed to Clinton Junior College in 1965, according to Clinton’s website. Clinton College got its current name in 2013.
The president said he hopes to double enrollment, from 200 students to 400, in the coming year. Down the road, McCorn said he hopes to see at least 500 students enrolled on campus, growth in students enrolled in online programs and for Clinton to become a university that offers undergraduate and graduate programs.
“We use the words Clinton University around here,” he said. “I see the potential, especially in Rock Hill.”
Clinton remains a school for people, who otherwise might not be able, to get an education, McCorn said. He said more than 90 percent of Clinton’s students are Pell Grant eligible and many come from high-poverty backgrounds.
“The reason schools like Clinton are so important is because (African-Americans) were forbidden by law to read and write,” he said. “African-Americans knew that if we were going to succeed .. if we were going to lift out of poverty, education was the key. All these years later that is still the case.”
Many Clinton students are the first in their family to go to college, he said. The school serves both traditional and older students.
“A college education is the surest way to the middle class,” McCorn said.
Clinton student Kevin Radcliffe, 35, said historically black colleges and universities are important to the community and nation. Radcliffe is in his first semester at Clinton studying business administration.
“It’s a great thing for Clinton to still be a significant cornerstone in the community as well as Rock Hill,” Radcliffe said. “It’s a great opportunity for the people of Rock Hill as well as the state of South Carolina to see a college that’s been around for this long still making an impact today and for the future.”
Clinton’s history still will be its foundation, but the school also is focused on preparing students for careers in the 21st century, McCorn said. He said the goal is to establish Clinton as a work college, where students are required to participate in a work-learning service program.
There are nine colleges in the United States that are federally designated work colleges. The Work Colleges Consortium represents eight of those schools. Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Tex., is the only historically black college that is currently a member.
Clinton will apply for the federal designation as a work college next year, McCorn said. He said a school has to be functioning as a work college for two years before being granted federal approval.
Work colleges require students to have a job either on campus or off campus while in school, according to the consortium. Work colleges are overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. The consortium assists work colleges in meeting federal guidelines.
McCorn said companies are looking for graduates who have the soft skills necessary to succeed in a professional environment. As Rock Hill and the surrounding areas grow, so does that need.
McCorn said his goal is to help students identify work they will enjoy.
“You are fulfilled when you are doing what you are called to do,” he said. “They’ve got to learn the things it takes to get a job, to keep a job and then to excel in a job.”
Clinton students also will soon live and work with peers who share either the same major or similar career goals, McCorn said.
“It makes sense for people who have like interests in terms of majors and careers to be together and support each other,” he said.
McCorn’s plan for the school also includes upgrading Clinton’s campus. A new living and learning center is planned for 2020 that will house 100 students, he said.
Clinton hopes to also grow its sports program with a new athletics director, Alfonso Duncan, McCorn said. Duncan comes to Clinton after serving as the associate athletics director for compliance at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.
McCorn said his goal is for Clinton’s mission to resonate with the community.
“This celebration of 125 years is helping us reflect on what we have done and to recommit to doing even greater work in the future,” he said. “I think we will be recognized as one of the great success stories of HBCUs.”