USC wants students to have real-world experience. Some fear it could add time, money

Former college president James Rion McKissick is said to haunt the South Caroliniana Library. He is buried in front of the building.
Former college president James Rion McKissick is said to haunt the South Caroliniana Library. He is buried in front of the building. file photo

The University of South Carolina is considering a new program that would require all students to have real-world experience before graduating, something that could enhance education but, critics fear, could tack on hours of work and extra costs for students.

The program, called “Experiential Learning,” would require all students to have 45 hours of some sort of out-of-the classroom experience, which could include an internship, research, study abroad or community service, before graduating, said USC Vice Provost Sandra Kelly.

“The intent is basically to improve the quality of education at USC,” Kelly said. “It really impacts their ability to get a job.”

The Faculty Senate will decide whether to implement the program, which will only affect incoming students, Kelly said.

“In general, I think these are very good, and I have always encouraged my students ... to take advantage of these,” said Eva Czabarka, a math professor and member of Faculty Senate, who said she spoke for only herself, not all faculty senators.

But requiring all students to have a form of experiential learning could cause them to take internships they don’t want or don’t find valuable, or could cause them to spend additional money on a study abroad trip, Czabarka said.

“We should do everything we can to make it easier for students to have these opportunities. We shouldn’t make it compulsory,” Czabarka said. “If it is a required thing they must do, it could be an unnecessary burden for students.”

Students are divided on the issue, with opponents saying the policy could disadvantage students who work full time.

“I think it’s misguided,” said Patrick Greene, a member of USC Student Government who is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology.

Among his primary concerns is what he sees as a lack of clear policies for students who can’t add 45 hours to their schedules.

“They’re asking us for blind trust and faith in them,” Greene said.

Students’ scheduling concerns are “valid,” Kelly said, but university officials don’t think that will be a problem.

“I can’t really foresee a situation where this would have to add on time” Kelly said.

Most USC majors require students to have real-world experience before they can be awarded a degree. Three-quarters of USC students already engage in 45 hours of some activity that could be considered experiential learning, Kelly said.

The University of Georgia implemented a similar program a few years ago.

There, graduation rates aren’t expected to take a hit, said Rahul Shrivastav, UGA’s vice president for instruction, who began implementing the program in 2016.

“That’s something we’ve been very cognizant about,” Shrivastav said. “We’re really hoping this experience helps them power through that first job ... to get a job that’s a little more secure, a little more life-long.”

“I have some friends who go to UGA, and they haven’t said it was a problem,” said Azalfa Lateef, a junior at USC who is a member of the Student Senate and favors the experiential learning program.

Though internships are a prime way to earn “experiential learning” credits, USC students would be able to earn the credits other ways.

For example, at UGA, students have earned credits by designing websites, analyzing data and designing newsletters, Shrivastav said. Whether an out-of-classroom activity will count toward the 45-hour mark is up to each department. Students can also apply for grants worth $500 to $2,500 to help fund their requirements, Shrivastav said.

USC’s Student Senate won’t have an official say in whether the program gets approved, but it will issue a resolution on whether it supports the program.

At the moment, it appears student senators are largely against the experiential learning program — 19 student senators have sponsored a resolution opposing the experiential learning initiative, while four student senators sponsored a resolution favoring it.