In 2014, Erskine celebrated 175 years as a Christian academic community. Erskine College was founded by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP) Church in 1839. Prior to this time the church had established an academy for men in 1835 and a seminary in 1837. This academy became Erskine College, the first four-year denominational college in South Carolina.
By the mid-19th century, Erskine had become a thriving regional college. Following the Civil War, loyal supporters rebuilt the endowment wiped out by the conflict. They also financed construction of the Erskine Building and established chairs in chemistry and English literature under widely respected professors. These professors helped Erskine establish a reputation for academic excellence as the college moved from the classical to the liberal arts curriculum.
Also enhancing this reputation were the Erskine literary societies, as old as the college, which trained championship debaters and supplemented speech and literary training. The large auditorium constructed in 1892 offered an improved venue for hosting renowned speakers and enhanced Erskine’s continuing role as a cultural and educational center of the South Carolina Piedmont.
Erskine also played a leadership role in women’s education in the state. The Due West Female College (later Due West Woman’s College) was founded independently by ARP ministers and laymen in 1859, and came officially under the control of the ARP Church in 1904. Erskine College first began admitting transfer students from the women’s college in 1894 and became officially coeducational in 1899.
A planned merger of the college, the seminary, and the Due West Woman’s College paved the way for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges in 1925. By 1927 the three schools had merged into one institution called Erskine College, with the seminary serving as its graduate theological school.
During World War II Erskine served as a cadet training school for the United States Army Air Corps. A substantial enrollment effort in the late 1950s brought Erskine’s undergraduate enrollment to over 700 students throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. Enrollment has remained between 500 and 600 for the past several decades, but increased to nearly 800 at the opening of the 2019-20 school year.
In an effort to share its heritage and resources with the wider church, Erskine Theological Seminary began offering courses outside of Due West in the 1980s as well as arranging class schedules to accommodate commuting students. Since that time, students from many other denominations — Presbyterian, Baptist, AME, Methodist, Pentecostal, and non-denominational — have joined students from the ARP Church to receive training for ministry. The Seminary launched its distance education program (now Erskine Online) in the 1990s. In 2010 the Columbia campus was approved to offer complete degree programs.
In recent years, Erskine has been consistently ranked nationally among the best liberal arts colleges by various listings, including U.S. News & World Report and Forbes. Additionally, these rankings reflect Erskine’s placement among the top colleges in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), NCAA Division II, and the State of South Carolina.
Erskine College has become known for providing excellent preparation for graduate and medical schools, boasting exceptional acceptance rates for students pursuing graduate studies — nearly 100 percent for some programs.