College of Charleston’s Drive for the 250th Zeroes in on Student Success

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

Student success can be defined in a number of ways: For some, success means graduating and getting a high-paying job. For others, success is the ability to participate in study abroad programs and experience other cultures. Some students will find success in experiential learning opportunities such as internships, volunteering, research and civic engagement. There are also those who aren’t sure how they define success and need guidance. That’s what makes the future Student Success Center at the College of Charleston so critical.

“Our goal with the Student Success Center is to expand access for all students with a centrally located space – a ‘hub’ that will support students and help them identify the kind of citizens they want to be,” says Jim Allison, executive director of the Career Center.

The renovated, centrally located historic house at 58 George Street will provide the space and resources to help students explore and engage in the vast opportunities offered by the College. To support the renovation and expand the quality and quantity of professional and personal development opportunities for students, the College has set a goal to raise $2.5 million in philanthropic funding. Resources will include support for career development, civic engagement, financial guidance, and intern and research opportunities as well as basic tools for success such as access to food and clothing for students in need. The center is part of the Drive for the 250th – the College’s anniversary philanthropic effort that launched this year.

Currently, several thousand CofC students and alumni utilize the Career Center every year. By relocating to a more central location and collaborating with other student resources, Allison expects an uptick in the number of students using their services.

Also, by having a financial wellness center as part of these student success efforts the College aims to minimize financial barriers that inhibit engagement in experiential learning opportunities for underrepresented student populations including first generation students, veterans and students of color, among others. It will also provide students with the resources to plan for their lives in and out of college from a financial perspective.

“Students are navigating an increasingly challenging and changing world,” says Alicia Caudill, executive vice president of Student Affairs. “This generation of college students was born during the financial crisis of 2008 and are now faced with COVID-19. Their lives have been impacted by the essential need to understand finances. The Student Financial Wellness Center that will be part of the Student Success, along with the other resources available there, will give them life skills to thrive.”

With all the center has to offer, people are excited about how it will set the College apart from other universities.

“My husband and I are particularly interested in expanding experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students,” says Ann Looper Pryor ’83, who serves as vice president of Alumni Affairs. “Internships can be cost-prohibitive for many CofC students, but are essential on an entry-level resume, which is why we endowed an internship award for students interested in exploring careers in public service. By locating the Student Success Center in the middle of campus, it speaks volumes about how the university prioritizes these resources, both to students and to potential donors.”

 The center will also provide much needed space for organizations like the Bonner Leader Program offered through the Center for Civic Engagement. This national organization provides a diverse group of students – many of whom are underrepresented minorities and/or first in their family to attend college – with access to education and service opportunities. Established at the College in 2008 by Stephanie Visser, director of the Center for Civic Engagement, the program has grown from 7 to 26 students and has a graduation rate of 93 percent.

“If we want to think about change, it’s not enough to get students in the door,” says Visser. “We need to provide them with a network of support and increased access to opportunities for experiential learning. The Bonner students see themselves as family, and the center will give them a home away from home, a place for those who need extra support to congregate.”

Many students are dealing with issues of food and housing insecurity, which have heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caudill envisions ultimately establishing a Cougar Closet as part of the Student Success Center, which would provide professional attire for job interviews and internships. The Cougar Pantry, a facility currently housed in the Stern Student Center, supplies students with food and personal supplies.

“Like Maslow’s hierarchy, a student’s basic need for food, clothing and shelter must be met before they can meet their full potential,” says Caudill.

Ultimately, the goal of the Student Success Center and the programs that advance this important work is to create individualized pathways to success for every student on campus, regardless of background or academic interest.

“It’s important to reach these students the moment they step on campus,” says Caudill. “The more engaged the students are, the more likely they are to graduate. That’s why the efforts of these offices are more important now than ever.”