UofSC is No. 1 Nationwide for First-year Student Experience

Megan Sexton

Monday, September 9th, 2019

The University of South Carolina has the top first-year student experience among the nation’s public universities, according to U.S. News and World Report’s annual undergraduate rankings released Monday (Sept. 9). The 2019 ranking is the first time in nearly 20 years U.S. News has included a numerical ranking for first-year experience programs, an area where the university has been a national leader for more than 45 years.

 The rankings show the university’s reputation continuing to rise, as South Carolina earned the No. 22 spot among flagship universities in the country and was ranked No. 44 among public universities. Those showings improved over the previous year, with the university moving up three spots among flagships and two in the public university category.

 The university’s Darla Moore School of Business retained its No. 1 ranking in international business for the 21st straight year. The school’s undergraduate business program improved six spots, moving to No. 38.

“The University of South Carolina offers students an experience unmatched by any other institution in the country. Students here have the opportunity to learn and grow in ways that position them to be future leaders in their own communities and around the world,” says President Bob Caslen.

Several programs contributed to the university’s top ranking in first-year student experience. University 101, a first-year seminar started in 1972 to help students adjust to college life and learn about the university’s offerings, sparked an international movement called the first-year experience, with South Carolina earning national recognition for its work with students, peer leaders and instructors. The Columbia campus also is home to the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, the internationally recognized expert for scholarship, policy and best practice for all postsecondary student transitions.

University 101 is now taught to about 80 percent of incoming freshman, with classes capped at 19 students. Data show that students who take U101 return to school for their sophomore year and graduate from the university at higher rates than students who don’t take the course as freshmen.

“How does Carolina feel so small and so personal when we are so large? University 101 is one of the primary drivers of that,” says University 101 director Dan Friedman.

The university also received high marks in the U.S. News rankings for its living-learning communities, with South Carolina coming in at No. 8 among public universities. Every residence hall on campus is home to one or more learning communities, offering students the chance to pursue academic and personal interests, engage with their peers and interact with faculty. The university has added to its strong roster of living-learning opportunities in recent years, adding Galen Health Fellows for students interested in health sciences, Rhodos Fellows, a community for students who are pursuing careers in information, design and computing and who want to drive the future of digital technologies, and an Entrepreneurship and Innovation Community.

The overall and academic rankings show the university’s reputation and academic standing continues to rise. South Carolina’s peer assessment score — based on the opinions of university presidents, provosts and admissions deans — improved from 2018.

“The university’s reputation for academic and research excellence continues to grow among scholars and higher education leaders,” says Interim Provost Tayloe Harding. “We are continuing to invest in attracting and retaining innovative faculty committed to teaching and mentoring students, solving real-world problems and making new discoveries. We plan to build to on that success to reach even greater heights in the future.”

South Carolina's comprehensive universities also were recognized in the new guide. The University of South Carolina Upstate ranked No. 1 for best public Southern regional college and No. 1 among public Southern regional colleges for Top Performers on Social Mobility. USC Aiken ranked No. 2 for best public Southern regional college.

The rankings come on the heels of a record-setting class of new students arriving on the Columbia campus, including 17 percent first-generation college students, nearly 600 honors students and more than 5,200 South Carolinians, the largest number ever.