The Birth of a University

The Founding of Coastal Carolina

By Catherine H. Lewis

In 1954 there was no institution of higher education nearer to Horry County than Coker College. Few high school graduates were able to go away to college. Numbers of public school teachers did not have four year degrees. The long time Horry County Superintendent of Education, Thurman W. Anderson, and J. Kenyon East, who was on his staff were concerned with the general level of education, with training a work force, with the continuing education and training of the teachers in the school system. Credit for the idea of Coastal Carolina is due primarily to them. They convened a group of community leaders at the Horry County Memorial Library auditorium on July 23, 1954, to discuss the need for making available to students of the county the first two years of education beyond the high school.

The men present at that historic meeting, in addition to Anderson and his staff, were James P. Blanton, The Rev. Cecil Dubose Brearley, Sr., George W. Bryan, Edward E. Burroughs, William F. Davis, Ralph H. Ellis, the Rev. Morgan B. Gilreath, Dove Walter Green, Jr., James C. Hipp, Joseph W. Holliday, Jesse M. Lee, Harold S. “Jack” Reese, Harold S. Rogers, Dr. R. Cathcart Smith, Ernest F. Southern, and E. Craig Wall, Sr. On that very evening they determined to proceed with plans for a junior college, laid the groundwork for the Coastal Education Foundation, Inc., to govern and finance the institution, and pledged their own financial resources to the task.

The founders offered the University of South Carolina the honor of being the junior college’s nurturing mother. The University declined. The founders employed Drs. Edward and Margaret Woodhouse from Chapel Hill, NC, to teach and assist in administration, and classes began September 20, 1954. Classes met after regular school hours at Conway High School. Coastal Carolina Junior College had opened with little more than faith and determination to sustain it.

The students were in the main those who could not afford to go away to college or who for other reasons could not leave Horry County to further their education. Older men and women, established in full time employment, enrolled to qualify for further advancement in their careers or for personal enrichment. Apart from financial considerations, students sometimes could not qualify academically for regular college admission without special assistance. Open admission, giving the marginal student a proving ground to establish that he or she could keep up with the demands of college-level work, became the policy of the new college.

The founders approached George Grice, President of the College of Charleston, who was more sympathetic to the appeal of their appeal and agreed to oversee the fledgling school for three years--but only for three years. Grice sent Dr. George C. Rogers, Sr. to direct the operation. During that time Coastal sheltered under its sponsor’s accreditation to facilitate the transfer of its students to senior colleges. The faculty and administration began the exacting process of qualifying for Southern Association of Colleges and Universities accreditation, which required a minimum of three years.

When the College of Charleston ended its supervision the process was well along, but in this interim period Coastal required the approval of its faculty and courses by the University of South Carolina, in its role as the accrediting agent of the state of South Carolina. If the University did not give its seal of approval, students lost valuable credits when they sought to transfer to senior colleges. The University’s oversight committee regularly visited in Conway and negotiated with the CCJC faculty and administration about which course work could be accredited.

The little college enjoyed great popular enthusiasm. Its faculty and administrators were in great demand to speak about the college and its future. In 1958 the people of Horry County voted by a margin of four to one to impose on themselves a three mill tax to support the college and established the Horry County Higher Education Commission to administer the funds generated by the levy.

In the second year of independence large questions confronted the founders. Should they continue to struggle alone or should they align themselves with a stronger institution. In the fall of 1958, they decided to invite experienced educators to come to a conference on the future of the junior college. The program was designed to provide information to the founders, the administration and the general public. It was held February 6 and 7, 1959, in the auditorium of the Horry County Memorial Library in Conway.

Presentations covered the history of the junior college movement, curricula, administration and finance, public or private support, and the relative benefits of independence or affiliation. After each presentation a lively question-and-answer session allowed everyone to participate.

On Saturday morning, as the conference was winding down, a brief and memorable moment occurred when Dr. Nicholas Mitchell rose and asked to be recognized. He was director of the University of South Carolina Extension Division, the man in charge of an ambitious program of establishing branches of the University across South Carolina. Its rationale was that the first two years of college work could be offered more economically to greater numbers of underclassmen at local institutions, relieving pressure to accommodate ever greater numbers of freshmen and sophomores on the Columbia campus. Graduates of these branches would be “fed” into the senior college and graduate schools of the University. Clemson College was engaged in a similar extension program.

Dr. Mitchell was not on the program, but, in the light of subsequent events, his short speech may have been the most critical given in two days. A man of rotund figure and blunt speech, Mitchell outlined the University’s aggressive plan and declared, without softening the statement into an invitation, that CCJC was a target. He made it perfectly clear he meant to absorb the independent college into the University system. USC’s power to grant or withhold accreditation until the college qualified for the approval of the Southern Association, put teeth in the “invitation.”

It was not long before the Horry County Higher Education Commission signed a contract with the University of South Carolina which made the junior college a two year branch campus. In 1962 ground was broken for the first building on a new campus east of Conway. There was a great fundraising drive to which the people of the county responded generously.

The student body and the faculty grew steadily. Two years were increased to four years by 1974, and later some graduate studies became available. Buildings on the campus multiplied.

With a certain eye to historic irony the Coastal Educational Foundation, Inc. and the Horry County Higher Education Commission met together on July 23, 1991, thirty-seven years to the day after the founders had held their first meeting, and voted to seek legislative approval to separate Coastal from the University of South Carolina. From those who had been there from the beginning there was an almost audible sigh of approval. With persistence and superb help from legislators, the college was declared Coastal Carolina University, on July 1, 1993. Ronald R, Ingle was inaugurated the first president on October 22, 1994.

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