Scott Verzyl, University of South Carolina

Associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of South Carolina Scott Verzyl joins us this month to answer not five -- but seven -- questions about the Palmetto state's flagship school.

Founded in 1801 in the state capitol of Columbia, the story of USC is also a lesson in United States history. The school survived a name change, a fire and an earthquake and was spared in the path of Sherman's March because it operated as a hospital. The University closed briefly in 1861, however, in the aftermath of the Civil War. When it reopened in 1866, it would become the only southern state university to admit African-Americans during Reconstruction. It continued to ride the tide of post-Reconstruction southern politics, though, briefly closing and reopening as an all-white agricultural college. It weathered the Great Depression. Then progress solidified during World War II, when it hosted naval training programs. Returning GI's and later the baby boomers created enormous growth and the university made research a priority, creating a number of new programs and schools.

Today, 22,556 undergraduates study on the historic campus. With a 17-to-1 student to faculty ratio, the university offers more than 324 degree programs through its 14 degree-granting colleges and schools, including its nationally recognized Honors College. In 2011-12, the school awarded more than $106 million in scholarships and grants. As one of only 23 public universities in the nation with the Carnegie Foundation's highest research designation, USC and its faculty received $226.7 million in research funding last year for its initiatives in areas such as nanotechnology, health sciences, Future Fuels™, the environment and information technologies.

The center of the 359-acre USC campus -- The Horseshoe (Spoiler alert: it's Verzyl's favorite place on campus) -- is on the National Register of Historic Places. And the surrounding buildings are in the federalist style, influenced by Robert Mills, designer of the Washington Monument, who also had a hand in the design of the first USC building, Rutledge, as well as the South Caroliniana Library, and Maxcy Monument at the center of The Horseshoe.

Students participate in activities that range from musical theatre and symphony to a literary magazine, Greek life, and campus ministries. USC's sports teams -- the Gamecocks -- compete in the vaunted Southeastern Conference (SEC). 

USC has educated 22 of South Carolina's United States Senators and 33 of the state's governors. Other notable alumni include novelist Charles Frazier; all four members of Hootie and the Blowfish; New York Mets centerfielder Mookie Wilson; and the Director of NASA's Flight Center David King.

Join Scott Verzyl here to learn more about this dynamic university, its admissions, the nationally recognized Honors College, and where USC is headed in the future:

How does University of South Carolina draw students from across the country and around the globe?

The University of South Carolina has made student recruitment a top priority in the past decade. For many years USC was one of the best kept secrets around, but over the past eight years we’ve shared our story with a broader audience, and it’s really paying off.  We’ve invested in new technologies, expanded our outreach staff, and increased the programs and services we offer to students and their families. This has been the key to our success in making South Carolina a destination of choice for students hailing from Connecticut to California and beyond.

Specifically, we have adopted a regional recruitment model that places full-time admissions staff members in locations throughout the nation. This means students, parents, and school counselors have a friendly, knowledgeable USC representative that they can turn to locally when they have questions about the university and the application process. Additionally, we communicate with students on a frequent and meaningful basis throughout the admissions cycle, from the moment they express interest in Carolina to the day they step foot on campus as new members of our community. We strive to offer excellent customer service and individualized support to prospective students and their parents through a variety of means, including special events, tele-counseling, campus visits, and one-on-one meetings.

Effective recruitment is very important, but we can only continue to attract and keep students if we offer a valuable product, therefore, we monitor the student experience diligently. Once students enroll, we must deliver on the promise. Current students give USC high scores on annual satisfaction surveys, and we’ve seen a substantial increase in our freshman to sophomore retention rates, as well as our graduation rates. We consistently offer a first-rate education at a very good value, and not only do students stay with us, they tell their friends and families about their experience at Carolina.  We’re always happy when they spread the Gamecock Gospel!

 

What is the future direction of the University of South Carolina?

Staying true to our mission, the University of South Carolina is committed to being one of the finest universities in the nation. We’re dedicated to excellence and we’re investing in programs and services for our students so they can achieve their life goals. We want our students to dream big, to be leaders in their communities and the nation, and to make the world a better place.  A Carolina degree has no limits, and this is our message to the Carolina Community.  No Limits. 

Our recent past speaks to a very bright future for the University of South Carolina. To the best of our knowledge, we have managed to do what no other public research university has done over the last decade. We’ve more than doubled the number of our applications, we’ve grown our undergraduate population by 40%, and we’ve simultaneously increased our freshman class SAT profile by 100 points.  This demonstrates that the word is out about USC, as more and more students want to be part of the Gamecock Nation. In light of the recent economic shift the country has experienced, this achievement is even more remarkable.

Buoyed by this success, USC is poised to offer even greater value to both its students and to the citizens of South Carolina in the future. Our president is driving the university to new heights with a keen focus on innovation, community engagement, and leadership.  We’re the only institution in the state and one of an exclusive set of publics in the country to receive the Carnegie Foundation’s highest research designation. Last year, USC was awarded nearly one-quarter billion dollars in research funding. This means students learn from some of the country’s best minds in engineering, business, journalism, hospitality, retail, and sport management, sustainable energy, materials science, biotherapeutics, and K-12 education -- just to name a few examples.

To further support the quality of our students’ education, we’re rolling out a three-year hiring program to boost our tenured/tenure track faculty by a hefty 25%. We hired more than 100 faculty this past year alone. Representing many disciplines, these new faculty will enhance creative scholarship and inspired vision at USC, and engage in the betterment of both local and global communities through their research activities. For example, the College of Social Work is conducting studies and providing service in communities throughout South Carolina. And the university’s cutting-edge health sciences research is influencing public health discussions on a national level.

To promote leadership learning, the university announced the new Student Leadership Initiative to introduce best practices in leadership development in and out of the classroom with an emphasis on service, citizenship, civic responsibility, and appropriate risk-taking. Faculty and administrators will benefit from a new program of their own called Visiting Executive Leadership Program. Programs such as these will bolster our growing reputation as a quality institution.

 

What kind of student does well at the University of South Carolina?

Engaged students who are passionate about learning and who want to make a difference do very well at the University of South Carolina. About 97% of freshmen take U101, an extended orientation class that encourages involvement in at least one of more than 400 student organizations. This helps students adjust to life in college, make friends, build their skills, and broaden their perspective. Community service is highly valued among our student body, and many volunteer on Service Saturdays.

Our students are a diverse and adventurous bunch. They live according to the Carolinian Creed, our student code of conduct, which hinges on respect for self and all others. They are also curious about the world – more than 1000 students travel the globe each year to study for a couple of weeks or a semester or two.

I would most want applicants to know they will find their niche at USC, as long as it doesn’t find them first! They would have to work really hard to be lonely or bored here. The University of South Carolina offers the resources that only a major research institution can, but its collection of close-knit communities make it a comfortable, friendly place to live and learn and to stretch your wings. From the nation’s #1 ranked South Carolina Honors College, to our signature Capstone Scholars program, Maxcy International House, Preston College’s leadership program, or sustainable living in our Green Quad, there is a place for all interests at USC. And we proactively encourage our students to take advantage of all the opportunities we provide. There should be no limits to what students can do at USC.

 

How do you read applications? Does every application get read by the admissions office at the University of South Carolina?
It is very important for students to complete their applications thoroughly and thoughtfully, because we carefully read what is submitted.  We evaluate applicants holistically, meaning we recognize every student presents a unique combination of talent, achievement and motivation.

We expect all applicants to present good high school grades and SAT or ACT scores since academic performance is the primary indicator for success at the college level. But beyond the numbers, we look at factors such as extracurricular activities, leadership and work experience, and special talent.

The optional personal statement on our application is the perfect place to expound on any of these points, so we strongly recommend that all students take the time to complete this. It offers them a chance to tell us something about themselves that we might not ask for directly in the application, which helps us make a more informed admission decision. For example, we would want to know if a student is a talented writer who has won awards for her work, or if a student experienced a marked decline on his tenth grade report card due to a health problem. Context can make a difference in our evaluation of an applicant, so it’s important to err on the side of providing more information than less. We can’t read minds, but we are very good at reading applications!

 

What is your favorite thing about the University of South Carolina?

My favorite thing about the University of South Carolina is the historic Horseshoe located in the heart of campus. It’s stunningly beautiful, with ancient oaks and flower gardens and vast green lawns flanked by well-kept buildings that stood here more than 200 years ago as part of the original campus. People flock to the ‘Shoe year-round, and when I spot them through my office window, I am constantly reminded why I do what I do every day. I see tour groups wandering by as they listen attentively to their student guide. I see students playing Frisbee or studying while they catch some rays. I see families picnicking, professors holding a class outdoors on a sunny day, and brides-to-be getting their portraits taken before they graduate. The Horseshoe is a place where people naturally congregate and where a whole lot of learning and living happen – a joyful, vibrant place and the heart of the University. The moment I first set foot on the Horseshoe, I knew it was a special place. It’s where most people fall in love with USC.

I also love the excitement of Gamecock Athletics! If you’ve never been to an SEC football game at Williams-Brice Stadium or a baseball game at Carolina Park, you’re missing out on some serious fun and intense school spirit.

But one of the best things about USC is its location in the capital city of Columbia, SC. We are only a block from the State House, so we are in the middle of all the political action in the state. Our students benefit from the opportunities the city provides, from a thriving cultural and arts community, to employment and internships; from shopping and dining, to recreation. It doesn’t feel like an urban campus at all, but being in the city has its benefits.

 

The USC Honors College was recently ranked #1 among honors programs at public universities. Can you tell us a bit about the history, mission and curriculum of the Honors College and its place as part of USC?

Since 1978, South Carolina Honors College’s primary mission has been to provide a superlative undergraduate education for academically gifted students by focusing on the individual educational needs, abilities and aspirations of each of its students. The University’s unwavering support of this vision has benefited many honors students over the course of three decades. Last March, this longstanding effort culminated in national acclaim when the first-ever comprehensive survey of honors programs ranked South Carolina Honors College as the #1 public university honors college in America.

The term “college” is an important distinction. South Carolina Honors College is an undergraduate degree-granting entity that exists equally alongside 12 other schools and colleges on USC’s Columbia campus. It is not just a “program.” It is an unparalleled four-year academic experience; all its students take honors-specific courses that meet University curriculum requirements no matter the major they have chosen.

From accounting to visual communications, honors students may choose from among one (or more) of the University’s 95 degree programs, or they may pursue a completely customizable Honors College degree that is equivalent in rigor and scope to two degrees combined – a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree. This special degree requires the approval of a faculty committee, and many of the University’s brightest students choose this path.

Honors student benefit from small classrooms; the average class size is just 14. The USC’s Honors College classroom experience is based upon the Socratic method, where each student is expected to contribute meaningfully to classroom discussion. Approximately 1,400 undergraduate students are enrolled in the Honors College, and they enjoy an ever-changing menu of more than 300 unique Honors courses each year. Subjects range from the exotic (The Birth and Death of the Book: From Gutenberg to Google) to the expected (Vector Calculus), but all are taught by the University’s top faculty across a full range of disciplines.

Another distinction is that South Carolina Honors College has its own dedicated college dean, faculty and advisors who are committed to the honors experience.  They nurture, counsel and challenge students to reach their potential and unique goals. The Honors College also has its own dedicated honors residence hall, one of the newest on campus, and one of the best places to live at USC. We try to create the best conditions possible so these top students can achieve the highest levels of academic achievement, not only for their own personal gain, but for the benefit of the university , the community and beyond.

As demand for the limited number of Honors enrollment slots climbs every year, so too does the freshman honors profile; the average SAT score has climbed 29 points in just five years to 1427. But students who enroll in South Carolina Honors College aren’t just “book smart.” They are active and engaged throughout their entire tenure at the University, and they contribute significantly to the fabric of life on campus. For example, many of USC’s student organizations are either founded or led by Honors students. Honors students actively pursue undergraduate research grants and they pursue studies and community service at home and all around the globe. They are athletes.  They are leaders. They are ambassadors. They are a community of high-achieving scholars who have unlimited possibilities for success.

 

What are the college admission-related issues that you have been thinking about lately? What keeps you up at night?

Higher education in America is at a crossroads. We’ve enjoyed world dominance in education for so long that we’ve taken it for granted, and now we’re in danger of losing that enviable position.  The cost of a college degree is going up as public support for higher education is in decline, which makes it harder and harder for students to afford college. At the same time, our economy is still struggling and, while the job market is improving, a college degree is more important than ever for a promising future. Some people are questioning the long-term value of a college degree as the world rapidly changes. They ask, “Will my degree be relevant in the future?”  “Will I be able to get a job when I graduate?”  “Is the investment worth it?”   “How will I afford it?”  The mere fact that families are struggling with these questions worries me.

I believe a college degree is worth the personal and public investment, for both the individual and society. We in higher education have to do a better job of demonstrating this value so families won’t question it. As a nation we must improve and invest in our educational systems, our universities, and our degree programs, so that we continue to add value and remain globally competitive. We need to innovate, and in some cases remake ourselves to be attractive to new and non-traditional learners. We must find ways to make college affordable, especially for those who are often less able to afford it and who would most benefit from it. Higher education pays big dividends in the economic, social, and cultural strength of our country. It’s our best chance for a bright future.  

So basically, I worry about ongoing support of education in America and the resulting implications for our nation’s future – our children’s future. And on a very personal level, I worry for my children’s future. That’s what keeps me up at night. Also, the neighbor’s dog barks sometimes.

 

 

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One more thing, I am happy to answer any questions, so don't be shy!

Scott Verzyl

Scott, Congratulations on a well deserved honor!!! Your answers to the above questions were very helpful, and we appreciate your taking the time to give us this information. Hope all is well there and that you and yours will have a great holiday season. See you at SACAC if not before. :-) Best, Nancy

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