University of SC online college gets first chancellor

ashain@rthestate.comJanuary 15, 2013 

— Two decades ago, Susan Elkins helped Tennessee Technical University put faculty at two-year community colleges so students could earn bachelor’s degrees.

A decade ago, those classes started to migrate online. Today, Tennessee Tech has helped students in nearly half of Tennessee’s 95 counties further their education without having to go to its Cookeville campus.

Elkins will bring that experience to the University of South Carolina when the state’s flagship college starts offering online courses in the fall to students at USC’s four two-year campuses.

“We found in Dr. Elkins a leadership model that we could learn from,” USC president Harris Pastides said Monday.

Palmetto College is expected to have from 500 to 1,000 students in its online classes in business, criminal justice, education and nursing, USC provost Michael Amiridis said.

Enrollment is expected to balloon online in future years.

“It’s an innovative model for the future for higher education,” Elkins said Monday. “We can transform education in South Carolina.”

Elkins, 56, becomes Palmetto College’s first chancellor after working as vice president of extended programs and regional development, and dean of interdisciplinary studies at Tennessee Tech.

The native of Gainesboro, Tenn. — a half-hour northwest from Tech’s campus — was one of three finalists to become Tech’s president last spring. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Tech and a doctorate in education leadership from Vanderbilt University.

Elkins was selected from 51 applicants for the USC post. “She was at the very beginning of this,” Amiridis said. “She is a good catch for us.”

Elkins’ $185,000-a-year appointment was approved by USC trustees at a special meeting Monday. She earned $131,500 at Tech, according to the Tennessee Board of Regents database.

Elkins said she has experience in helping faculty adjust to teaching classes online. “Change is always difficult, but it gets better once faculty members go through training,” she said.

Some students like online classes because they can have more interaction with teachers since enrollment is capped at about 35 students. “They can get more attention than if they sitting in a classes with a couple of hundred (students),” she said.

Some programs in Tennessee are geared for local industry. For example, Chattanooga State Community College is offering an industrial technology degree at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, she said.

“There is no one cookie-cutter to do this,” she said.

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