Coastal Carolina University officials plan to build a Myrtle Beach area campus for graduate students within five years.
Faced with the buildout of the main Conway campus and the possibility of losing space the university rents in Myrtle Beach, Coastal leaders insist they must begin preparing for an expansion east of the Intracoastal Waterway.
“You just can’t continue to put more bodies on this campus,” said university President David DeCenzo. “There’s a limit.”
Coastal leaders plan to grow the student body to 12,500, a size they say the Conway campus can’t hold. Ideally, DeCenzo said he would like to see 10,000 undergraduate students on the main campus and 2,500 at a new graduate facility in Myrtle Beach.
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Coastal currently accommodates just more than 600 graduate students and nearly 8,900 undergrads.
One factor driving plans for another campus is the availability of the facility Coastal rents at 79th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach. The university leases the 42,200-square-foot building for $100,000 per year. DeCenzo said Coastal’s lease only gives the university a year to relocate if the property owner makes other plans for the site. He thought that notice was coming this summer, but it didn’t. Still, he doesn’t want to take any chances.
“I don’t want to wait, get a year’s notice and then find out we’re scrambling,” he said. “You can’t put a building up in a year. It takes us a year and a half to get it approved. You don’t want to lose those opportunities. It’s prudent for us to do the planning now.”
The current Myrtle Beach campus provides general education classes, graduate level education courses and many offerings from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which holds classes for adult, noncredit students.
The building also houses a stage and a 148-seat theater, which the university’s theatre department uses for two shows each year and rehearsals. The Atlantic Stage theatre group presents four to five shows there each year, too.
On Thursday, a committee of university board members approved leasing the 79th Avenue facility for another year. The committee also supported paying a design firm $50,000 to make updates to the university’s master plan, including the addition of a graduate campus. The full board is scheduled to vote on those items Friday morning.
Provost Ralph Byington said many of Coastal’s graduate students aren’t fresh-faced, recent grads but adults who have years in the working world and have returned to college to complete master’s degrees.
“Having a location closer to where they might be located would be beneficial,” he said. “That’s making the assumption that in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, one of those areas, that population base would be greater.”
Coastal officials are also trying to expand their slate of graduate offerings. The university currently has 10 graduate programs (eight master’s, one specialist, one doctoral), but five new ones are going through the approval process.
“We’re adding them at a pretty healthy clip,” Byington said.