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Coker College to become Coker University on July 1

January 29, 2019

HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Coker College’s change to Coker University reflects the great strides the institution has made and continues to make in its growth and will play a pivotal role in Hartsville’s future, college officials and community leaders say.

Coker officials announced Monday that the 111-year-old college will begin operating as Coker University on July 1, giving the institution a name that officials say reflects its growth as a graduate degree-granting institution, an innovator in online learning and a viable higher education option for international students.

“Change of any kind always takes some getting used to, particularly for an institution that’s been around for more than a century, but change has become increasingly more necessary in the field of higher education,” Coker President Robert Wyatt said.

“The name Coker University is going to showcase the breadth of our academic offerings, from undergraduate degrees to graduate degrees to online degrees, as well as the growing number of students we’re seeing from around the country and the world. It’s an exciting time for Coker and for our community.”

University status is a reflection of the tremendous growth Coker has experienced in recent years, including the addition of five graduate programs and four online bachelor’s degrees, college officials said.

Coker regularly recruits international students, many of whom come from areas where the term “college” is used most frequently to describe a high school education. By becoming Coker University, the value of a Coker degree will be more clearly indicated to both international and domestic audiences, and the breadth of opportunities available to Coker students will be implied in the institution’s name, officials said.

Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington said the change will help spur Hartsville’s future development.

“It’s a wonderful reflection of the growth that we’ve been experiencing here in Hartsville,” Pennington said.

Coker has long played a key role in Hartsville’s development and will continue to do so, Pennington said. The change to university status will make the institution’s impact on Hartsville’s future more significant than ever, he said.

Pennington said the move is widely expected to increase Coker’s enrollment significantly and said that will help fuel Hartsville’s growth and expansion.

“It’s going to be key to our growth,” he said. “When I travel around to other cities, particularly cities our size, and see what’s happening there in communities that don’t have a small college like Coker, I realize more and more how truly blessed we are to have Coker, and now to have a university, it’s just amazing. It’s a defining difference in what makes cities grow.”

As Coker grows, the city of Hartsville grows, said Hartsville City Manager Natalie Zeigler, “and we look forward to showing even more students why Hartsville is such a special place. Coker is still the same great school, and this name change is simply a natural next step.”

These are exciting times for Coker and the entire Hartsville community, said Harris DeLoach, executive chairman of Sonoco.

“Coker has always been a very special place for students from around the globe to obtain their higher education, and the designation of university will be extremely positive,” DeLoach said.

Murphy Monk, president of the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce, called the news “a very exciting time for both Coker University and all of us in Hartsville.”

“The name change is a very natural progression and shows forward thinking from all involved with the university,” she said. “Coker University has positioned themselves to grow and strengthen their presence around the world, which only makes us happier to share a home with them.”

Despite all of the change Coker has experienced in its 111 years, including becoming co-ed in 1969, its mission has remained, and always will remain, the same, the college said. The wellbeing and success of Coker students remains the institution’s top priority, and the crux of a Coker education still centers around personalized, discussion-based learning and the values of the institution’s student covenant: integrity, respect, scholarship, sustainability, service and contribution, college officials said.

“Changing the full name of Coker will not change the experience of alumni, because that experience lives in our memories of campus, classes and friendships,” said Heather McConnell Buckelew (’95), president of the Coker Alumni Association. “I am proud to be a Coker alumnae and am excited about what the future holds as we become Coker University.”

Howard Coker, senior vice president of global paper/industrial converted products at Sonoco Products Company, said the evolution from college to university is “absolutely a natural next step for the school.”

“We’re pulling from 11 different countries now, 30 different states,” said and the great, great, great grandson of the college’s founder, Maj. James Lide Coker. “[With] the number of graduate degrees we have in place, it’s absolutely appropriate at this time in the cycle of the history of the college to recognize ourselves as we are, which is a university.”

Founded in 1908, Coker is a bachelor’s and master’s degree-granting institution and competes in 24 NCAA Division II sports. Coker is included among the “Best Colleges” in the South by U.S. News & World Report as well as The Princeton Review, and by Washington Monthly as a “Best Bang for Your Buck” college in the Southeast.

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