Look Who's Fifty!
Governor Carroll Campbell (above) signing the resolution that created Coastal Carolina University
A Rocky Beginning
The first chapter of Roy Talbert's Coastal Carolina University: The First Fifty Years, available this spring, creates a sense of suspense not unlike a good mystery story. But the question that keeps you turning pages is not "Who done it?" but, rather, "Is it gonna happen?"
Even though we know the answer – perhaps because we know the answer—it is fascinating to discover that Coastal, which is now celebrating 50 years of remarkable growth and achievement, had a very difficult birth.
"We've forgotten how hard the fight was to get this school started," said Talbert, a distinguished Coastal history professor and author.
In the early 1950s, the average Horry County citizen had not gone beyond the seventh-grade, and perhaps one-third of the teachers in the largely rural county did not have a college degree. But Thurman Anderson, the county's super intendent of education, could foresee the area's potential and its need for access to higher education. The junior college movement was flourishing all across America at the time, but in South Carolina it was a relatively new idea, and in most academic circles an extremely unpopular one.
Also, at the same moment when Anderson and his associates were seeking support for the idea of a two-year college here, the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. In South Carolina, political leaders were so offended by the ruling that they seriously discussed killing the entire public school system.
"It was an odd time to advance such an ambitious idea as the establishment of a junior college in South Carolina," says Talbert. "The political climate could not have been worse."
It is evident that Talbert feels a heroic element at work in the story: a struggle against formidable odds by men and women of vision, courage, and it seems in retrospect, an entirely impractical determination.
"The idea for Coastal originated in the public school system of Horry County," Talbert says. "Thurman Anderson had the idea and Kenyon East, county director of instruction, made it happen. They had to go to the business community for support and it responded superbly. A group of remarkable, dedicated, hard-working people, whom we now refer to as our founders, signed on to become the first board of directors."
The problem was that no support could be found where it was indispensably needed—from an established state institution of higher learning willing to extend college credit for the new enterprise. In the summer of 1954, East and Parks M. Coble, superintendent of Conway area schools, were assigned the difficult job of visiting colleges and begging for sponsorship. In the meantime, supporters of the new college, certain of success, began registering students for fall classes. Full-time tuition was set at $100 per semester, and a part-time student could enroll for $21 per course. Area residents began signing up for courses even as East and Coble were turned down by college after college, including the University of South Carolina, Clemson, Winthrop and Coker.
Then, as summer was drawing to a close and the organizers of the new college were facing postponement, College of Charleston President George D. Grice rescued the plan. His initial response was famously negative – "What in the hell do you want a college in Horry County for?" -- but, impressed by the quixotic enthusiasm of the school men, he took a leap of faith and agreed to sponsor the school for four years. Coastal Carolina Junior College’s first classes met after hours at Conway High School on September 20 with 53 students enrolled.
Coastal is on its way. During the new institution's first crucial years, its academic department was guided by its first two faculty members, the remarkable husband-wife duo Edward and Margaret Woodhouse from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and its first real administrative leader was George C. Rogers from Charleston. An enormous load was also carried by its board of trustees (later to become the Coastal Education Foundation), first led by Dr. Cathcart Smith, who was succeeded as chair by a strong line of able leaders including E. Craig Wall Sr., D. W. Green, Eldred Prince and Rev. George Lovell.
When the sponsorship agreement with the College of Charleston ended in 1958, the board campaigned for a referendum asking Horry County voters to support a tax to fund the college. It passed, and for the next two years, Coastal was an independent institution.
In 1960, Coastal joined the University of South Carolina system-the agreement was reached at the Chat'n'Chew restaurant in Tuberville, the halfway mark between Conway and Columbia. The foundation acquired land in the fall of 1960 for a campus site, and a building fund campaign soon followed, raising more than $317,000. The building was completed om 1963, and its first occupant as chancellor was Edward M. "Dick" Singleton, who has become Coastal's longest-serving head administrator as well as the person in whose honor the building would eventually be named.
Enrollment stood at 110 when the building opened, and the new campus, with its collegiate atmosphere and room for expansion, began to attract new students exponentially. By the end of the decade, the campus had added a student union building (now Atheneum Hall) and an academic building (Kearns Hall), with the Williams-Brice physical education facility following in 1972.
The next logical step forward was for Coastal to become a four-year college. There was an unsuccessful attempt to add junior and senior years in the late 1960's, but the feat was finally accomplished in 1975 despite the opposition from the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education- thanks to some shrewd tactical maneuvers by Singleton and Horry legislator Charlie Hodges. The year 1975 is also significant in Coastal's history as being the year that the college recognized its first graduate (Bill Eiser) in a new degree called marine science, destined to become the most popular major in the entire curriculum.
The 1980s opened with the planning and construction of Wheelwright Auditorium, a state-of-the-art facility that introduced a new level of performing arts activity to the region. In athletics, Coastal had fielded teams since the mid-1950s, playing against comparable teams in the Carolinas, but it was in 1983 that the college became a charter member of the Big South Athletic Conference. In 1986, Coastal became a full member of the NCAA. A year later, some 500 students moved into Coastal's first residence halls, the beginning of the transformation of the campus from a strictly commuter school to a truly traditional college.
By the beginning of the 1990s, Coastal had an enrollment of 4,000 and a faculty of 175. Many of its leaders, including then Chancellor Ronald Eaglin, felt that the institution had reached a level of development where the benefits of "going out on our own" were so obvious that they couldn’t be refuted by the most ardent USC loyalist. After heavy lobbying by members of Coastal's foundation and commission, John Palms, USC's president, agreed and recommended independent status for Coastal to his board of trustees in 1992. The S.C General Assembly approved the measure, and on May 14, 1993, on the steps of the Singleton Building, Gov. Carroll Campbell signed the bill creating Coastal Carolina University.
The new institution became official on July 1, 1993, when the new board of trustees installed its first president, Ronald R. Ingle, who had previously served as vice chancellor for academic affairs. Under his leadership, the past decade at Coastal has been one of spectacular expansion—in enrollment (more than 7,000 students in the fall of 2004), in physical building space and, most importantly, in quality programs that focus not only on students, but also on the community.
Coastal's journey in 50 years is a great success story by any standard, but perhaps it is best summed up by one of its early board members, Rev. George Lovell, when he said: "If I had to use preacher terms, I would say it is something of a miracle."
Coastal Carolina Junior College classes begin at Conway High School under the auspices of the College of Charleston.