Branding, record-breaking numbers and national rankings were all the buzz Feb. 8 as Clemson University President Jim Clements and City of Clemson Mayor Robert Halfacre spoke in front of a crowd of 150 people at the annual State of Clemson luncheon at Madren Conference Center.
Clements and Halfacre were joined by administrators and staff from both the University and City — including the Clemson Area Chamber of Commerce, Clemson City Council, Joint City University Advisory Board, as well as representatives from the offices of elected state officials, local businesses and non-profits — in a celebration of town-gown relations.
“We are really blessed to be part of this University and community,” Clements said. “Clemson is all about culture. It’s a special culture that’s existed for a long time.”
Clements spoke at length about the University’s “championship culture” through the pillars of education, research and service. Included among his remarks were the most recent available freshman retention rate of 92.4 percent and six-year graduation rate of 85.3 percent, figures that put the University around 25 percentage points higher than the national average.
He also showed statistics that support the growing value of the Tiger Paw. For the current admissions cycle, he’s expecting more than 60,000 applications for 4,600 slots — more than tripling the number from a decade ago.
“People want to come here,” he said. “Our national brand has never been stronger.”
Halfacre began his remarks by showing a video on the City of Clemson rebrand that resulted in the adoption of a new logo. He said the City’s goal was to develop an identity that spoke to the spirit and culture of Clemson.
“We wanted to ensure we have the tools to connect both community members and visitors in a way that everyone could relate to,” he said. “We wanted to have a brand that distinguished the City from the University, while also acknowledging the incredible impact of the University.”
Both leaders spoke at length about noteworthy collaborations between the University and City. Clements said the drive-through COVID site at Nettles Park — which has been in operation for about 2 ½ years — has been able to provide nearly 125,000 tests free of charge to members of the local community.
“Only a few universities in the country opened up COVID testing to their local community,” Clements said. “We were honored to do that; it’s part of our land-grant mission. It allowed us to do so many things other places didn’t get to do and helped us navigate a global pandemic together.”
Halfacre cited recent public transportation enhancements. CATbus was awarded $3.9 million to add two electric buses to its fleet. This past year, CATbus had more than 594,000 passengers, an exponential increase in public transportation utilization. He also mentioned road improvements — both the ongoing Perimeter Rd expansion on the University’s main campus and an upcoming project aligning the intersection of Cherry Rd and Old Stone Church Rd to Hwy 76.
Both leaders referred to joint sustainability efforts following the suspension of the City’s curbside pickup program through Kite Hill Recycling Center.
“We’re very conscientious on sustainability and protecting the environment, and the recycling collaboration was a way to signify that partnership,” Halfacre said. “We’re very thankful for the University and Kite Hill.”
Halfacre concluded his remarks by referring to a note penned by City Administrator Andy Blondeau, who described Clemson’s town-gown relationship as “different.”
“What makes us different?” he wrote. “We have tremendous natural resources, a resilient economy and a major University presence. We have a strong civic consciousness. An alumni base and affiliated fans who are driven to and support our community. Clemson University is a common bond that creates a sense of civic pride among our residents. Our community lives everywhere, thanks to Clemson University.”