Southern Wesleyan University grows as centennial approaches
Southern Wesleyan University is attracting record numbers of students as it prepares to celebrate 100 years of providing a quality education with a Christian perspective.
The university was founded nearly 100 years ago by leaders who promised to “help men and women become what God has designed them to be.”
“In 2006, the university will celebrate 100 years of achieving that goal,” said Janelle Beamer, university spokesperson. “The year will be filled with events that commemorate the university’s history and celebrate its future.”
Southern Wesleyan University prepares students for leadership and graduate study in such fields as religion, education, music, business, medicine, law and a variety of civic and social service professions. Southern Wesleyan offers 22 major areas of study for undergraduates and graduate degrees in the areas of business, education and ministry. The university’s main campus is in Central and there are regional learning centers across the state, in locations such as Greenville, Columbia, Charleston and North Augusta.
The university’s history began October 15, 1906, named Wesleyan Methodist Bible Institute and employing three instructors. It was one of five colleges and universities sponsored by the Wesleyan Church, headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind. Then, in 1909, the school was chartered as Wesleyan Methodist College.
In 1928, the school became a junior college with a four-year theological degree offering. Another milestone for the university came in 1958, when the high school academy and junior college at the institution were accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The year 1963 brought re-organization as a four-year liberal arts institution and the new name, Central Wesleyan College. The Leadership Education for Adult Professionals program, now called Adult and Graduate Studies, was established in 1986. The college was renamed as Southern Wesleyan University in 1995.
“Historically, the founders of the college understood linguistic, quantitative and analytical skills to be the foundation of a liberal arts education,” Beamer said. “Further, they believed that the cultivation of this curriculum within the context of faith, worship, studies in religion and service to others created a fertile soil for intellectual and spiritual growth.”
As part of Southern Wesleyan University’s centennial celebration, the university has commissioned Dr. Robert Black, religion professor, to write a history of the institution. The book, “How Firm a Foundation,” will be released during the institution’s 100th year of operation.
An excerpt from “How Firm a Foundation” by Dr. Black:
When the bell rang, it was time for school to start.
The bell was on a hilltop just outside the town of Central, South Carolina, and it marked far more than the opening of a new school day. It heralded the opening of a new school and the realization of a dream for Wesleyans who had worked and prayed for a denominational college in the South. On October 15, 1906, Wesleyan Methodist Bible Institute officially opened its doors.
Those doors were in an as-yet-unfinished Smith Hall, the first and only building on the emerging campus that fall. Through them entered a remarkable student body ranging in age from the primary grades through high school and climaxing with the ministerial training program which was at the heart of the school’s creation – 19 students in all. By the end of the term their number would grow to 53 (and outgrow Smith Hall).
President L. J. Harrington and his wife Nellie were expected to be the faculty as well as the administration of the school, but it was immediately apparent that they needed help. The institute’s two theological students, James and Grace Hancock, were enlisted to assist with the younger students from the very first day even though initially there was no money in the budget for their salaries. The Harringtons and the Hancocks, then, very quickly became the first in a long and honored line of servant-leaders associated with the college who would demonstrate a spirit of self-sacrifice on her behalf.
Even the younger students soon understood the need for sacrifice. No seat desks were available on that first day of classes. They had been ordered but would not be available until weeks after classes began. Until they arrived the school borrowed slat benches from the Wesleyan Methodist church located a mile away, bringing them to College Hill each Monday and returning them for Sunday services every weekend.
On borrowed benches in an unfinished building, what is now Southern Wesleyan University began that October day a century ago with a chapel service. Together with several visitors present for that historic moment, faculty and students launched the new school in prayer and praise. The hymn they sang in that first service was a statement of faith in God and a declaration of confidence in the future of this new venture – “How Firm a Foundation.”
Today at Southern Wesleyan University, administrators and professors are working to meet the needs of record numbers of students.
“The student population at Southern Wesleyan has been growing consistently during the last decade,” Beamer said. “Today, statewide enrollment figures are approaching 2,500.”
From 1993 to 2003, enrollment increased by 1,148 students – a 175.8 percent increase. In the fall of 2003, traditional students at the university’s main campus in Central reached 617, an 11 percent increase from the previous year. Resident students at the Central campus increased by 16 percent during the same time period.
This steady, yet impressive, trend toward growth means the university’s housing is full and chapel services, held twice weekly, are “standing room only” events. Southern Wesleyan University is addressing the institution’s infrastructural needs with two new buildings scheduled to be complete before the fall 2005 semester begins.
New Residence Hall: This project addresses the growing student population’s need for resident housing. The new student residence hall will accommodate 200 students in suites or “hotel-style” rooms. The facility will also offer housing for summer conferences at the university.
Dining Hall/Student Center: This project includes construction of a new two-story dining hall adjacent to the Jennings Campus Life Center. It includes new kitchen and preparation space, seating for 500 students as well as 500 guests in a flexible-layout banquet hall. The Jennings Campus Life Center, which includes the Newton Dining Commons, the Snack Bar, the Bookstore and the Post Office, will be redesigned.
Also in the works for the Central campus are a new multi-purpose gymnasium-style building and a new fine arts center.
In addition to new buildings, the university is offering new majors to meet the needs of today’s students: forensic science, forensic computer science, communications and management of information technology.
“These new majors can lead to a wide range of careers, such as journalists, crime lab technicians, toxicologists or technology managers,” Beamer said.