Building partnerships has been the cornerstone of the University of South Carolina Aiken since its inception in 1961. It was then that the citizens of the Aiken community voiced the need for a local institution of higher education. In a true demonstration of grassroots politics, the community rallied to show their support for a college to be founded in the area. Through state legislation, a governing board was formed, the Aiken County Commission for Higher Education, which continues to oversee the University’s mission.
The University of South Carolina, the state’s flagship university which was founded in Columbia in 1801, began offering courses in Aiken for students interested in completing their degrees in Columbia. USC Aiken became the fourth campus founded of the eight that would eventually comprise the USC System. Three full-time faculty members, a secretary, and 139 students joined for the university’s first academic semester in September 1961. Classes took place in "Banksia," a former winter-colony mansion in downtown Aiken. For 11 years, the university’s first students attended college in a structure which was developed as living quarters, studying composition in an area which was once a ballroom and algebra in a former sitting room.
Over the years, the student population grew and the need for a new physical location for campus arose. The university purchased property from the Graniteville Company and moved from Banksia to its present site in 1972. One multipurpose building was constructed, which was later named the Robert E. Penland Administration Building. This building’s open courtyard features one of the campus’ most notable landmarks, the Double Knot sculpture by artist Charles Perry, which symbolizes the University's close ties with the local community. At the time, most assumed that this would be the only building ever needed for the campus; however, the university grew to occupy more than 20 buildings and athletics facilities in the years that followed.
As a natural next step, USC Aiken began to seek autonomy in the USC system so students could begin and complete their degrees in Aiken. In 1977, the university was fully accredited as a senior college by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges, now known as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and granted its first baccalaureate degrees. Master’s degree programs began being offered on campus in 1994.
The institution began forming a limited number of sports teams as part of the NAIA in the 1960s. USC Aiken student-athletes adopted the Pacers as their mascot, named for Aiken’s well-known status as an equestrian community. In 1990, USC Aiken achieved NCAA Division II status and became a charter member of the highly-competitive Peach Belt Conference. Today, Pacer Athletics hosts 11 varsity men’s and women’s sports teams, including the three-time national champion men’s golf team.
Since 1961, six leaders have navigated the university’s path. Mr. Chris Sharp (1961-1962), Mr. Bill Casper (1963-1983), Dr. Robert Alexander (1983-2000), Dr. Thomas Hallman (2000-2012), and Dr. Sandra Jordan (2012–2021), and Dr. Daniel Heimmermann (2021-present) have overseen the campus as it has grown from a commuter institution to a more traditional, residentially-based campus.
Today, USC Aiken has ranked in the top three public baccalaureate colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report’s guide "Best Colleges" for twenty-two consecutive years. More than 3,500 students attend the university, and approximately 500 students graduate each year. USC Aiken provides bachelor’s and master’s degrees in over 50 programs of study while delivering many of the offerings of a large university on a small, friendly campus with intimate class sizes and personal attention. The commitment to continuing partnerships is woven into the fabric of the campus’ culture.
Important Dates in USC Aiken History
- The Aiken County Commission for Higher Education is created by the South Carolina General Assembly. Francis Townsend is named the first chairman.
- The University of South Carolina Aiken is founded. The campus is housed in the historic Banksia mansion in downtown Aiken. Chris Sharp serves as the first director.
- Bill Casper is named the second Director of the Aiken campus.
- Robert Penland is named chairman of the Aiken County Commission for Higher Education.
- The campus receives accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate degrees.
- The first associate degrees were awarded in June 1968.
- The South Carolina Legislature authorizes a bond issue to purchase a new site for USC Aiken.
- The Aiken County Commission for Higher Education purchases property from the Graniteville Company for a new campus location.
- The first building on the new campus, the administration/classroom building, opens its doors to students. The Double Knot sculpture by Charles Perry is placed in the building's open courtyard.
- A $400,000 gift from the Gregg-Graniteville Foundation and the Swint Foundation establishes the Gregg-Graniteville Library. It was the largest contribution ever made to a library in the state at that time.
- The USC Aiken Alumni Association is founded, with Mike Graybill as the first president.
- The Gregg-Graniteville Library was completed in 1975.
- The Student Activities Center opens its doors to students. It includes a gymnasium, bookstore and food services facilities.
- USC Aiken is fully accredited as a senior college by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and given authority to award baccalaureate degrees.
- The estate of Cecil and Virginia Etherredge provides a gift of $1.25 million to USC Aiken, which is later used for construction of the Etherredge Center.
- Classes are first held in the dedicated classroom building (now named the Humanities and Social Sciences Building).
- Construction is completed on the Operations/Maintenance Building.
- The Aiken Partnership, an affiliate of the USC Educational Foundation, is created to guide fundraising efforts for USC Aiken, with C. Marshall Cain as the first chairman.
- Chancellor Bill Casper announces his retirement.
- Robert E. Alexander is named Chancellor of USC Aiken.
- An addition to the Gregg-Graniteville Library is completed, doubling the size of the facility
- Pacer Downs opens to provide campus housing for USC Aiken students.
- The Etherredge Center for the Fine and Performing Arts was completed.
- Opening night at the Etherredge Center for the Fine and Performing Arts features Metropolitan Opera star Roberta Peters.
- Gasper L. Toole III is named the Chairman of the Aiken County Commission for Higher Education.
- The historic Pickens-Salley House (now Alumni House) is given to USC Aiken by Ronnie Bolton and moved to the campus.
- USC Aiken celebrates its silver anniversary.
- The Academy for Lifelong Learning is established to offer educational opportunities to senior citizens in the area.
- USC Aiken's athletic programs join the Peach Belt Athletic Conference in the NCAA Division II.
- The Sciences Building is dedicated.
- The Children's Center was completed.
- Local students and teachers enjoy the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center's new facility.
- The Business and Education Building is completed.
- USC Aiken begins offering its first master's degree, in elementary education.
- The DuPont Planetarium begins offering programs to local schools and the community.
- The USC Aiken campus expands to 453 acres through a donation/purchase from the Graniteville Company.
- The estate of Vernon and Wava Ford creates a $1.25 million endowment for scholarships.
- The Natatorium is added to the Student Activities Center.
- USC Aiken is listed in U.S. News & World Report's College Guide as a top three public liberal arts college in the Southeast.
- Construction is completed on the Alan B. Miller School of Nursing Building.
- The administration/classroom building was renamed the Robert E. Penland Administration and Classroom Building.
- The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center was expanded by 30,000 square feet.
- Dr. Thomas L. Hallman is named the third Chancellor of USC Aiken.
- Robert Hernandez Baseball Stadium is dedicated.
- Pacer Commons student housing complex is dedicated
- USC Aiken Golf Team wins NCAA Division II National Championship and repeats this accomplishment in 2005 and 2006.
- The USC Aiken Convocation Center is dedicated.
- Pacer Crossings student housing complex, designed for freshmen, is dedicated.
- USC Aiken Chemistry Professor, Dr. Chad Leverette, named South Carolina Governor’s Professor of the Year.
- USC Aiken celebrates its 50th anniversary.
- Dr. Thomas Hallman announces his retirement at the 50th anniversary celebration.
- Dr. Hallman retires.
- Dr. Sandra Jordan becomes USC Aiken's fourth chancellor and the university's first female chancellor.
Investiture ceremony held officially installing Dr. Sandra Jordan as Chancellor.
- Dr. Sandra Jordan retires.
- Dr. Daniel Heimmermann becomes USC Aiken's fifth chancellor.
Dr. Daniel Heimmermann
Dr. Sandra J. Jordan
Dr. Thomas L. Hallman
Dr. Robert E. Alexander
William C. Casper
Dr. Christopher S. Sharp