Story by Karen Petit
“Lander University is the place to be.”
If the phrase wasn’t being used to describe the Greenwood, S.C., institution of higher education before, it will be.
Dr. Richard Cosentino, Lander University president, gave an enthusiastic State of the University address Monday (Sept. 13) and said, “Our growth is exceptional, and Lander is the place to be.”
The upward trajectory in nearly every phase of academic and student life underscores Cosentino’s description of the University, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2022.
With 3,839 students enrolled in Fall 2021, Lander has achieved an impressive 42 percent increase in enrollment since 2015, when 2,701 students attended the University. The number is far more than the inaugural class of 38 students in 1872.
“This is unheard of,” Cosentino said, as he outlined the University’s achievements over the past year.
The growth is even more significant compared to enrollment figures at the Palmetto State’s other public colleges and universities, which includes three research institutions and 10 comprehensive universities.
Between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020, Lander’s percentage growth in students was 8.8 percent – a number higher than the combined 8.1 percent growth at the state’s research and comprehensive universities.
“We grew more than every state institution combined,” Cosentino said.
However, as enrollment has grown, Lander’s administrators and its Board of Trustees have remained committed to another extraordinary feat: Tuition has been locked in at $10,700 for full-time, in-state students – a cost that has been frozen since 2016.
“Our trustees really care about the cost of education and the quality of education at Lander,” Cosentino said, emphasizing that the University wants its graduates to leave without the burden of student loan debt. “This says everything about our trustees and everything about our growth.”
Lander has grown in other ways, as well:
- Two facilities are nearing completion, and two others are planned.
- Renovations to buildings are underway to support existing and future campus needs.
- The S.C. General Assembly awarded Lander its largest ever state appropriation.
- Private giving has created the University’s largest endowment.
- With the most employees in Lander’s history, the University has the highest compensation for its faculty and staff.
The $17.7 million in state appropriations for 2021-22 includes $5 million for a new nursing building that will enable Lander to expand its renowned nursing program, which encompasses 20 percent of total enrollment.
More than $11.2 million in state funds will be used for maintenance and renovations. And, the Legislature’s approval of nearly $1.5 million in general operating funds represents a 15 percent increase over last year.
“We have a great institution, and the state feels that way, too,” Cosentino said, announcing that the University plans to seek additional funding for a new library, or “information commons,” that will have the latest technology and expanded meeting space and individual study areas.
The existing library would be converted and used for classrooms and laboratories.
With an increase in academic programs, including a new College of Graduate and Online Studies and new degree programs in such high-demand fields as cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, visual arts and business, Cosentino said, “We are educating teachers, business leaders, computer scientists. You may be a CPA, but you were educated in a rich liberal arts environment so that you are a good citizen.”
Over the next few years, construction and renovations will be visible:
- New Buildings: Construction is nearing completion for a high-tech nursing simulation lab at Legion Hall, and an athletic field house for Lander’s wrestling and men’s and women’s lacrosse teams soon will replace the Wellness Works building, once a community fitness center. The former Sproles Recreation Center will become a student pavilion with a swimming pool, movie and other leisure-activity features.
- Building Upgrades: Over the past three years, Lander has renovated 94 classrooms. Other changes to the campus will include a new traffic circle and landscaping for Chipley Hall, and renovations to the Laura Lander Hall bell tower. These buildings, part of Lander’s original campus, are the “jewels in our crown,” Cosentino said.
The former Bank of America building in Uptown Greenwood will be the new home in 2022 for some of Lander’s administrative offices, as well as an art gallery and meeting and event spaces.
Cosentino also had high praise for Lander’s student athletes, whose average 3.26 GPA is the highest in the Peach Belt Conference. The University has 23 conference teams in men’s and women’s sports, and recently elevated its bass fishing club to a team sport.
He singled out the Lady Bearcats basketball team for their success as a Final Four contender in the NCAA Division II championships, noting that more than 300 universities began the season, but only four made it to the final rounds.
“Lander University is on the map with our amazing athletes,” he said.
The growth in enrollment and student life have brought new challenges, including on-campus housing. Since 2015, Lander has had a 45 percent increase in the number of students living on campus. Residential housing, which comprises 1,803 students for Fall 2021, points to the fact that Lander has outstanding student life opportunities, Cosentino said.
The University soon will need a new residence hall, one that will have a dining hall to free the demand on existing campus restaurants and dining services, he said.
Lander has reached a growing pain experienced at many larger colleges and universities – parking.
“I get it,” Cosentino said, telling the audience of faculty, students and University supporters that more paved lots are in the works. “We take this problem seriously.”
The President also addressed the importance of mental health among the University community and said that the mental and emotional well-being of students, faculty and staff is a priority.
Students live in a “complex world,” he said, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, and he called on the University community to seek the help of the Wellness Center and online mental health services.
“Students have a tough job … in a very challenging time,” he said.
Even in the face of challenges from the pandemic, the University has been able to experience “exceptional growth” through careful, strategic planning. Cosentino reiterated, “Lander is the place to be. This is where students want to come to school. We are becoming the trend.”
Few institutions have fared as well as Lander over the past several years, he said.
“We have arrived,” Cosentino said. “It is unbelievable what we have been able to do.”