In 1970, on its 200th anniversary, the College of Charleston became a state institution. The move marked the beginning of a growth period. According to the 1970 legislative decree that incorporated the College of Charleston into the South Carolina state system, the College was to develop flagship programs in academic areas that capitalize on the unique natural and cultural strengths of Charleston and the Lowcountry, especially marine biology and fine arts.
In 1970, enrollment remained at about 500 students, but the student population began a steady rise to 1,500 by 1972 and to more than 10,000 in 2001. The physical facilities expanded, from fewer than 10 buildings to more than 100. Full-time faculty increased from 26 to 192.
In 1972, the College opened the Robert Scott Small Library, and its two-wing addition was finished in 1975. In 1974, the first intercollegiate soccer team was set up. Spoleto USA launched in Charleston in 1977, and the College became an integral part of the annual program with the Cistern taking center stage.
President Stern retired in 1978 after a highly successful tenure, and Edward M. Collins Jr. took over.
In 1982, the F. Mitchell Johnson Physical Education Center opened in honor of a star basketball player, and Clyde the Cougar became a permanent team mascot.
The College established the African American History and Culture Center in 1984 at the Avery Institute, an elite black school that had been founded in the 19th century.
In 1985, Collins resigned as president amid a steep decline in student enrollment and a lack of funding. Harry Lightsey took the helm with the goal of putting the College’s financial affairs in order.
The College established its computer centers in 1986. Free seminars were offered to students, faculty and staff. Use of the library shot up at this time, as many came to use the computers and then stayed to study.
In the mid-’80s, seven of the school’s intercollegiate teams progressed to national competitions, with the sailing team winning first in the nation.
Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989 and damaged 111 of the Colleges building at a cost of $32 million. Four massive oaks in the Cistern Yard were uprooted, breaking the hearts of many alumni. The Class of ’89 and the Lightsey family contributed to replacement trees, which required a 35-foot crane to put them in place.
In 1992, the University of Charleston, S.C., often referred to as the Graduate School, was founded as the home for graduate programs for the College. The University of Charleston, S.C. now offers 22 degree and 10 certificate programs and coordinates support for the College’s many nationally recognized faculty research programs.
When President Lightsey retired in 1992, he had increased enrollment by 80 percent, increased full-time faculty from 250 to 350 and tripled foundation and annual giving. Not only were all the damages by Hurricane Hugo repaired, many of the buildings had been renovated.
Another big achievement for the school was in 1992, when Robert Dukes of the physics department and his student Gabriel Drake discovered an eclipsing binary, a double star. The following year the College was chosen as a partner in the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium, and Sylvia Gamboa of the English department developed one of the first programs in Writing Across the Curriculum.
Under Lightsey’s leadership, the school became truly international. In 1994, students represented 40 U.S. states and 66 countries. In 1996, the College opened its first international campus in Trujillo, Spain. In 1997, a campus was set up in Annot, France, and a program was started in Cuba.
In 1996, the men’s basketball team received NCAA certification, and the 1996-97 basketball season was the most successful in school history. Of particular note: Anthony Johnson ’97 was the first College of Charleston basketball player to be drafted to the NBA.
In March 2000, the school broke ground for the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library and, later that year, the athletics complex at Patriots Point opened.
Alex Sanders, who had assumed the presidency after Lightsey, created a more stable enrollment and a more diverse student body, and the College’s rankings improved in every major educational poll during his tenure.
President Lee Higdon assumed leadership, and the College embarked on an ambitious plan designed to enhance the overall student experience, increase the faculty and student support staff and upgrade and expand facilities. The College renovated many historic structures and opened several new buildings, including two new residence halls, the Beatty Center for the School of Business and new facilities for the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance. Most recently, the College opened the TD Arena, the Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts and the School of Sciences and Mathematics Building on Calhoun Street.
P. George Benson assumed the presidency after Higdon, and the College continued to elevate its national profile through academic and athletics achievements, winning top scholastic honors and national championships. In 2013, the College joined the Colonial Athletic Association, expanding its footprint on the Eastern Seaboard.
Today, the College is led by Stephen Osborne ’73, the fourth alumnus in the College’s history to hold the office. President Osborne is serving as the interim president and is continuing the vision of former President Glenn F. McConnell ’69 to enhance the College’s liberal arts and sciences core, expand the institution’s offerings in order to respond to its evolving student population and bolster its role in supporting and transforming South Carolina’s Lowcountry into an economic powerhouse.