Building partnerships has been the cornerstone of the University of South Carolina Aiken since its inception in 1961. It was then that the citizens of the Aiken community voiced the need for a local institution of higher education. In a true demonstration of grassroots politics, the community rallied to show their support for a college to be founded in the area. Through state legislation, a governing board was formed, the Aiken County Commission for Higher Education, which continues to oversee the University’s mission.
The University of South Carolina, the state’s flagship university which was founded in Columbia in 1801, began offering courses in Aiken for students interested in completing their degrees in Columbia. USC Aiken became the fourth campus founded of the eight that would eventually comprise the USC System. Three full-time faculty members, a secretary, and 139 students joined for the university’s first academic semester in September 1961. Classes took place in “Banksia,” a former winter-colony mansion in downtown Aiken. For 11 years, the university’s first students attended college in a structure which was developed as living quarters, studying composition in an area which was once a ballroom and algebra in a former sitting room.
Over the years, the student population grew and the need for a new physical location for campus arose. The university purchased property from the Graniteville Company and moved from Banksia to its present site in 1972. One multipurpose building was constructed, which was later named the Robert E. Penland Administration Building. This building’s open courtyard features one of the campus’ most notable landmarks, the Double Knot sculpture by artist Charles Perry, which symbolizes the University's close ties with the local community. At the time, most assumed that this would be the only building ever needed for the campus; however, the university grew to occupy more than 20 buildings and athletics facilities in the years that followed.