- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The House budget-writing committee advanced a bill on Tuesday to create a research university within the College of Charleston.

The Ways and Means Committee approved the compromise. An earlier version would have forced a merger between the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina. The amended bill now would keep them as separate entities that collaborate to offer doctoral degrees underneath the larger moniker of the University of Charleston, South Carolina.

The University of Charleston, South Carolina would not be allowed to duplicate any degree programs offered in the Charleston region.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by two Charleston representatives, is intended to meet South Carolina’s growing technical workforce needs.

Co-sponsor Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said a comprehensive research university is needed to prepare an entire region that is changing from being known as a tourist spot and naval base into a manufacturing and information technology-based economy.

“Boeing came to us at one point and said some of the things that they need when they were looking at further expansion. The fact is if they had brought it to South Carolina, we had not fulfilled our workforce needs for what we already have, much less what might be coming in the future,” Merrill said.

The only state university currently designated a research facility is the University of South Carolina.

Merrill said that discussions for the merger began over a year and a half ago.

“It really is a simple bill because the entire process of becoming a research university is simple. It’s a matter of them changing their mission statement and then at that point, you are no longer a two year college or a four year college,” Merrill said.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, commended members of the committee for finding a compromise.

“What we wind up doing is finding people who were on polar opposites and somehow reaching something that allowed everybody to find some common ground and consensus,” Cobb-Hunter said. “The lynch pin for all of that was this notion of workforce development and how all of us are interested in insuring that whether it is for an existing industry or for industries to be recruited, we are going to have a trained workforce.”

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