USC Beaufort considers name change

HILTON HEAD ISLAND -- The University of South Carolina Beaufort has formed a committee to decide if it is time to consider a name change.

The idea has been on the table for the past 15 years, said Lynn W. McGee, vice chancellor for university advancement. But members of the university's partnership board, which serves in an advisory role and helps raise money for the school, brought up the topic again at a meeting last month.

"We would never walk away from the 'University of South Carolina,'" said McGee, who also isheading the new committee. "The partnership board asked about changing the modifier (Beaufort) to describe the institution differently."

As the university has grown with the region, it has attracted students from beyond Beaufort County, McGee said.

USCB has been a four-year university offering baccalaureate degrees for only about five years, McGee said. Before that, it was a two-year school.

It now primarily serves a four-county area: Beaufort, Jasper, on and Colleton counties. It also draws students from across the state and offers in-state tuition to residents of Savannah, McGee said.

"Do we want to say it's about one particular town or county or a whole region?" she asked. "The idea behind the partnership board's concern was how can you best represent what we are and attract more students?"

USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw said that with the recession, "it is absolutely imperative to investigate how to grow the influence of the University of South Carolina in this region."

One other USC campus has changed its name to reflect a wider region. The University of South Carolina Upstate used to be USC Spartanburg, said USC spokeswoman Margaret Lamb.

USCB is part of an eight-campus system; the flagship university is in Columbia. The USC board of trustees has the final say on any campus name change.

The name change discussion should be open to the entire community, including students, faculty, alumni, local leaders and legislators, McGee said. Changing the name would require a market study, online surveys and focus groups.

McGee said the name change is something that should only be done once and can describe the school for decades to come.

"The decision I want (the committee and the board) to make is whether we want to open a university and community conversation about this decision," she said. "But I don't want to open that conversation unless the board really understands how much time and energy and funding it will take to do that."

McGee led the study when USCB was looking for its mascot, the sand shark. That project took about a year. The criteria included selecting an aggressive, tough and proud animal. The mascot also had to resonate locally and build the school's identity outside the region, McGee said.

She said that if the committee decides to work toward a name change, the university would follow the same model it did for the mascot project.

Some students at USCB's Bluffton campus said they wouldn't mind if the name changed as long as "University of South Carolina" were included in it.

Freshman Derrick Amann said the name should reflect the area where students live, such as replacing the word "Beaufort" with "Bluffton" or "Lowcountry."

Other students said the school is trying too hard to be independent from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and is having an identity crisis.

Freshman Melanie Commissiong is transferring to the flagship school because USCB doesn't offer amarine biology major. She said USCB should either separate from USC completely or offer the same programs available in Columbia.

"It is a good school," she said of USCB. "There are pretty good professors, and the athletics are good. For a four-year school, you really can't complain."

When it comes to identity branding, however, Commissiong said the university must figure out one thing:

"Either we are affiliated with USC or we're not."