Wofford Students with a group of kids

Community-Based Learning allows Wofford to help solve far-reaching, complex, real-world challenges (doing so is in our interest in more ways than one) and to access and share in community assets, knowledge and expertise.

Wofford is physically, socially and economically intertwined with Spartanburg. When Spartanburg thrives, so does Wofford. “What sense does it make to try to improve university performance while the communities around them stagnate or collapse? The fates of urban campuses and communities are linked.” (Warren, Harvard Educational Review, 2005).

In The Road Half Traveled: University Engagement at a Crossroads (2010), colleges are described as “anchor institutions,” institutions with self-interest in the long-term welfare of their communities, and with resources and influence to bring to bear in pursuit of that welfare. As such, the report argues these institutions should articulate and fulfill anchor missions, “to consciously apply their long-term, place-based economic power, in combination with their human and intellectual resources, to better the long-term welfare of the communities in which they reside.”

There are big challenges ahead: For all its progress and promise, Spartanburg is still quite racially and socio-economically divided; and socially and economically challenged.  For example, in 2011, the year for which the most recent extensive data on poverty is available, nearly 30% of the children under 18 in Spartanburg County (almost 20,000 children) were living in poverty. Spartanburg County has a higher 2011 poverty rate than peer counties, the state average, and the national average for all residents and for children. There are significant disparities in poverty by race in Spartanburg County (16% of Caucasians, 31% of African-Americans, and 49% of Hispanics). In the much smaller (just 19 square miles) City of Spartanburg, where the demographics are 49% African-American, 46% Caucasian, the economic disparities are even more pronounced.

Spartanburg community organizations are investing heavily and effectively in tackling society’s most pressing issues locally – often as multi-agency, multi-institution collaboratives connected with national models and national investments and each other. Some of these include: 

Neighborhood Renewal & Revitalization

The Northside Development Group (NDG) is a public/private partnership leading the redevelopment of an economically depressed neighborhood contiguous to campus. Because of the Northside initiative, Spartanburg is now one of only nine network member communities of nationally renowned community revitalization organization, Purpose Built Communities.  One of the most impactful things students have done in the Northside was to serve as junior facilitators and note-takers in master planning charrettes, in which community residents discussed their hopes and dreams for the neighborhood.  With the Milliken Community Sustainability Initiative, there will soon be many more opportunities developed.   

The City of Spartanburg began and led the Northside process before the NDG was formed and is still heavily involved there.  The City is also engaged in ongoing downtown revitalization with the Chamber of Commerce ($90M invested and 70 new businesses opened in Spartanburg’s small downtown just since 2014); implementing a $2.5M neighborhood parks improvement plan; collaborating with the Arts Partnership to get and implement a $1M Bloomberg Philanthropies grant which placed neighborhood-designed neighborhood light/art projects in nine neighborhoods; and a nascent master planning process for another lower-income neighborhood, Highlands.  

 Early Childhood Development

One of two strategic grant-making foci of the Mary Black Foundation (Assets = $80M+), early childhood development is getting the attention it deserves as a catalyst for overall community health and well-being in Spartanburg.   

MBF’s approach is very data-driven (see below) and is knitted together with the Way to Wellville initiative. Spartanburg is one of five communities (more than 90 applied) focused on improving five key health indicators over the next five years.  The “Way to Wellville” is the brainchild of and is supported by philanthopreneur and technological guru, Esther Dyson, whom Wofford recognized at Commencement last year.  She and it have already brought unquantifiable support and technical assistance to Spartanburg in this area.   

One of the innovative approaches to improve child health and early childhood development coming from this is a unique suite of programs being offered by a partnership between the Mary Black Foundation, the Way to Wellville, the Spartanburg Regional Hospital System and the City of Spartanburg called “Hello Family.”  Potentially of added interest for students and faculty, the partnership is developing opportunities to pay for an expansion of “Hello Family” with an innovative new financing vehicle: “pay for success,” social impact bond financing.  The Mary Black Foundation is also taking the lead on designing, with help from the nationally-recognized Institute for Child Success, and building the Early Childhood Development Center in the Northside.   


The Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) is a “collective impact” (Stanford Social Innovation Review) model for improving educational success from cradle to career.  Spartanburg is now one of about 75 network member communities of the Strive Together national network.  SAM is headed by Dr. John Stockwell, who lserved as the Chancellor for the University of South Carolina - Upstate, and in whose tenure, the Metropolitan Studies Institute at Upstate was developed. John sees to it that SAM is very data-driven and he is keen on developing policy and data labs regarding education, in partnership with Wofford.  

  1. School District Seven: of Spartanburg’s seven school districts, D7 is the one most closely tied to the health of the City (most of the City and all of the Northside are in D7); and the one with the most racial (though not wealth) equity.  D7 has just committed to spending $200M on new facilities, which bodes very well for the prospects of students in D7 schools.  And, because the expenditures were voted in on a referendum, it also says something about Spartanburg voters’ willingness to pay additional taxes in pursuit of a greater collective good. 
  2. Cleveland Academy of Leadership: A District 7 public elementary school literally steps from Wofford (in the Northside) with 98% of the kids on free and reduced lunch. Under the visionary leadership of Principal Fred Logan, a Wofford alumnus (class of 1987), in 2012, Cleveland became the first school in the state of South Carolina to go to school 205 days/year, in an effort to stop the “summer slide” that often occurs with kids from lower-income families.  With its new emphasis on leadership and educational attainment, the school has now become a national model proving that students from low-income families can be high-achieving. 
  3. Arcadia Elementary School: Title I school close to campus with 65% Hispanic/Latino enrollment and a long-standing relationship with Wofford as a community partner for Spanish major courses with integrated civic engagement components. Hosts wide array of initiatives, designed collaboratively with families, non-profits and Wofford, and aligned with key Community Indicators. Initiatives include healthy eating and active living; adult education; school readiness; and grade-level reading and math competencies. Spartanburg County saw a 366% growth in the Hispanic population from 1990-2000 and a 135% increase from 2000-2010. Nationwide, despite increased enrollment in college, Latino college completion rates are low; addressing the college readiness and attainment challenge faced by the growing local Latino population will be critical to the success of initiatives like SAM. 


In addition to, and at least somewhat related to, the Way to Wellville initiatives, other significant efforts are underway to improve health in Spartanburg County.  

  1. Nearly 40,000 adults in Spartanburg County have no health coverage of any kind – no insurance and are not eligible for either Medicaid or Medicare.  That is a higher percentage than both the state and national averages. These people, many of whom work two or three jobs, cannot experience the dignity of being able to visit the doctor, which puts them – and our shared community – at great risk. AccessHealth Spartanburg (AHS) helps uninsured residents find the right doctors and pay for consultations, treatments, procedures, and pharmaceuticals. They provide case management, care navigation, and connection to providers of needed medical services for county residents ages 19-64 who live at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. Hospital utilization has seen a dramatic impact since the inception and implementation of AHS. Charity care at Spartanburg Regional has dropped from $116 million in 2009 to $80 million in 2014. And, a Return-On-Investment calculator used by The Duke Endowment reports a return of $13.08 for every $1 that funds AHS.  The Duke Endowment and now the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are two primary funders for AHS.  Some of our most impactful (for students) community engagement has come through our partnership with AHS. AHS and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare Foundation have approached us about developing a Student Health Coaching Model like the one Allegheny College has with the Meadville, PA Hospital System.  They are eager to work with us on this and other initiatives.
  2. Partners for Active Living: partnering with the Mary Black Foundation and the Way to Wellville to tackle childhood obesity.  All seven school districts are feeding them data to support research in this area. Esther Dyson has IBM working with them to capture and to mine the data. PAL is also working with the Mary Black Foundation, Spartanburg County and the Palmetto Conservation Foundation to develop a Master County Trail Network to promote walking, biking and jogging all over the 811 square miles of the County; and connect with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation’s “Mountains to the Sea” trail, which runs right through our campus.
  3. Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (our neighbor): has recently approved a $600M facilities plan, boding well for the strength and health of the system in years to come.   

Community Data/Decision-Making

For more than 25 years, Spartanburg County has been tracking and sharing its community data.  Want to know how many teen pregnancies occurred in Spartanburg last year?  How about how many Spartanburg citizens voted in the last election, as compared to previous elections? Concerned about the air quality or the quality of the water in Spartanburg’s creeks and rivers? You can find all of this information and much, much more at the website of the Spartanburg Community Indicators Project (SCIP).  

SCIP is one of the oldest community indicator systems in the country and has served as the model for many similar programs, including Aspire Arkansas and Eerie Vital Signs. Nowadays, all data for www.strategicspartanburg.org is compiled through the Metropolitan Studies Institute (MSI) at USC-Upstate, led by Dr. Kathleen Brady. Without the MSI and the treasure trove of data it represents, it’s unlikely Spartanburg would have been competitive for Way to Wellville; or that data-driven approaches would have so thoroughly seeped into the lexicon and practice of Spartanburg community change agents. The MSI is a tremendous community asset, but Dr. Brady acknowledges it is able to handle only a small percentage of the research needs in our community.  There is an opportunity for Wofford to complement that work through participatory research and qualitative analysis.  

In another example of using data to drive, the Chamber of Commerce, with many partners, has just completed a strategic planning process for the economic development of Spartanburg County.  The plan includes a lot of social issues thinking and action, including working to reduce childhood poverty and supporting college and career for Spartanburg youths so that they will stay here and be productive members of our community. The Chamber is now raising $5.2 M to put the plan into action, absolutely unprecedented for Spartanburg.