Francis Marion features diverse campus, small classes

Heidi Finley

Photo by Francis Marion

Facts and stats:

Francis Marion University is named in honor of South Carolina Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, who was nicknamed “The Swamp Fox” for using terrain and guile to outwit Loyalist adversaries. The public university is six miles east of Florence, S.C., on nearly 500 wooded acres and serves about 3,560 undergraduate students.

Francis Marion offers 56 majors. Tucker Mitchell, the school’s vice president of communications, said nursing is its most sought after major, but it’s not easy to get into and students must be sophomores to be admitted. Industrial engineering is also popular, he said.

Traditionally, the school is well known for its business and education programs, along with psychology and biology – often taken as part of a pre-professional track, such as pre-medicine, pre-dental or pre-veterinarian studies.

FMU accepts about 59 percent of students who complete applications. Incoming freshmen have an average SAT score of 1040. In-state undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees were about $10,478 for the 2016-17 school year.

Fred Carter, the longest-serving public school president in South Carolina, is heading into his 19th year at the helm at Francis Marion. He previously enjoyed a long career in state government and is well-known across South Carolina, so his presence has created a warm connection between the town of Florence and the university, Mitchell said.

What’s new on campus:

The Luther F. Carter Center for Health Sciences in downtown Florence opened last fall with the latest updates in educational technology, including a simulation center, a clinical skills center and a dedicated laboratory space for anatomy, physical examinations and other training. Along with the center has come the school’s first doctoral degree, in nursing.

What’s life like on campus?:

Mitchell said Francis Marion features an intimate campus with lots of trees and native plants. “It’s less than a mile from end to end, so students can and do walk everywhere.”

There’s no big lecture halls with “industrial size classes,” and virtually none are taught by teaching assistants, Mitchell added, noting that students and professors enjoy an unusual bond.

Student Freddricka Pressley said there’s a safe and friendly atmosphere on campus, and “Everyone is mostly known on a first name basis.”

Pressley said off-campus, “The city of Florence is very warm and inviting for us.” She said attractions that are well-known to students in the city of about 38,000 are the Civic Center, the Florence Museum and the FMU Performing Arts Center.

Student Tyler Hughes said amenities in town include “two movie theaters, two bowling alleys, two malls … a laser tag joint, an escape room, some of the best restaurants in the state, and the downtown area is undergoing a major renovation.” Charlotte is a little over 2 hours away; Columbia, S.C., is about an hour and 20 minutes away.

Francis Marion competes in NCAA Division II athletics in the Peach Belt Conference with seven sports each for men and women, including basketball and baseball/softball. There is no football team.

What do students like best?:

Pressley said students love the unwritten open-door policy that the faculty operate on. If a professor’s door is open, “this is a sure sign that they are willing to see students and answer any questions they may have.”

Hughes said, “I feel like the thing that students like the most about Francis Marion is how small the class sizes are here. Professors can, and will, focus on really helping students in need, and they are always available and willing to help. The intimate class sizes make us feel as though we are one big family. That is what’s Francis Marion is all about.”

The Frank B. Lee Nursing Building on the FMU campus. Photo by Francis Marion

Fun traditions:

Pressley said Francis Marion’s traditions include homecoming activities such as the Patriot bonfire and Patriot Pride Homecoming Parade. Hughes also noted a weeklong contest called the Patriot Games in which teams of five members each compete to win a trophy, FMU gear and bragging rights.

Mitchell added that a post-commencement “mob” in front of Francis Marion’s Smith Center not only includes the usual photo taking but also singing and some dancing, too, led by fraternities, clubs and special interest groups.

“Because so many of our students (at least a third based on FAFSA stats) are first-generation collegians, there is an extra sense of joy, and maybe wonderment, when a student has finally graduated!” he said.

What do students like least?: 

More than 50 student organizations host weekly events on campus, but Pressley said there is low student involvement after school hours and on the weekends because many of them work. Mitchell said a “fair number” of FMU undergraduates are commuter students.

Hughes said the campus location outside Florence is also a slight downside. “It isn’t too far out of town, but sometimes a 10-15 minute drive to town can become a hassle for some.”

Best advice from current students:

Pressley said, “The best advice I can give for an incoming student is for them not to limit themselves. Get involved as much as you can academically and socially. Seize every opportunity that is offered to you, and most importantly do not lose sight of your purpose for being in college.”

Hughes’ best advice for students is to try to get plugged into at least one or two groups on campus their first semester. “Being involved in organizations is such a great opportunity to meet people with similar interests who may become some of their best friends and study partners. Getting involved will help students feel like they have found a school and a place where they belong, and that is a great feeling.

“Another little bit of advice I have to offer is to not get behind in classes. That first year is likely going to be their easiest year, so it is important that they focus and maintain a good GPA. Study as much as you can and try to make good life decisions that will not hinder your grades and attendance. Oh yeah, go to class; it will help you a ton.”

What surprises people most about Francis Marion: 

Mitchell said it’s an unusually diverse university, as recently recognized in a report from the Education Trust published in Inside Higher Education.

“We’re about evenly split between white and African-American students, which is a decent reflection of this part of S.C. And, in a major departure, we graduate blacks and whites at virtually the same rate,” he said. The report puts the black graduation rate at 41.7 percent and white graduation rate at 44 percent.


Heidi Finley is the editor of Carolina College Bound. Send questions or suggestions to

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