Southern Wesleyan University (SWU) is a private Christian liberal arts institution located in the town of Central in Pickens County. Founded in 1906 as Wesleyan Methodist Bible Institute, the university is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, an evangelical denomination with Methodist roots in the American Holiness tradition. The Bible Institute was chartered as Wesleyan Methodist College in 1909 and in 1959 became Central Wesleyan College. Under President David Spittal, the institution changed its name to Southern Wesleyan University in 1995 and entered a period of unprecedented growth.
Regionally accredited, the university offers bachelor’s degrees in disciplines ranging from the sciences to the humanities and graduate programs in business, education, and religion. A significant percentage of public-and private-school teachers in the surrounding area are SWU alumni, and the music program carries a high profile in the community as well. In 2000 Southern Wesleyan became the first school in the nation to offer a major in Internet computing. Athletic teams compete on the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics level and in the National Christian College Athletic Association. In 2002 many of the 2,200 students were in nontraditional programs that offer evening and weekend classes to working adults at teaching sites across South Carolina.
Throughout its history, Southern Wesleyan’s Christian mission has been central. Among its distinguished alumni are three who served the sponsoring denomination in its highest office, two of whom (Dr. Roy S. Nicholson, Sr., of Walhalla and Dr. Virgil A. Mitchell of Six Mile) are native South Carolinians. Southern Wesleyan is a member of the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities.
The university’s Rickman Library specializes in Wesleyana and in upstate genealogical records, including an extensive family database. Also located on the Central campus is Freedom’s Hill Church, the first Wesleyan meetinghouse built in the South (1847–1848) and, as a southern abolitionist church, a designated stop on South Carolina’s National Heritage Corridor.