PENDLETON --- The average national six-year graduation rate for first-time incoming college freshmen is 44 percent, according to a report card issued by the White House earlier this year.

The Bridge of Clemson program, a partnership between Tri-County Technical College and Clemson University that creates a pathway to transfer to Clemson, boasts of an 82 percent graduation rate - almost double the national graduation rate. "That is unbelievable," Clemson University President James Clements said in his keynote address at Tri-County's annual report luncheon.  Clements celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Bridge to Clemson program by spotlighting statistics and success stories.

He called Bridge to Clemson "a national model of collaboration whose graduation rate is consistent with our overall graduation rate.  Our Bridge students are doing just as well as our students who enroll as traditional freshmen."

A first of its kind in South Carolina.  Bridge to Clemson is an invitation-only program that blends the traditional academic experience at Tri-County with the social and cultural experiences of being a Clemson University student.  The program, which began in 2006, offers students a university experience and seamless transition to Clemson for their sophomore year. Bridge students must earn 30 transfer credits at Tri-County during their two semesters and transfer to Clemson with a minimum 2.5 GPA. 

Bridge to Clemson is a seamless program whereby students benefit academically and socially, said Clements. 

The first class of the Bridge to Clemson University program enrolled 235 in the fall of 2006 and has flourished beyond all expectations during the past decade.  In the fall of 2016, the Bridge program admitted 800  - its largest class to date. 

"I'm so proud of the program's impact and growth," he added.

"At Clemson, more than 1700 of our current students came to us through Bridge.  This is almost 10 percent of our overall undergraduate student population. The program is so important because it gives more students, especially more South Carolina students, access to a world-class Clemson education," he said.

Students like Wallace Cobbs, who was a member of the first Bridge to Clemson class in 2006 and after several years of teaching reading/social studies teacher at Pendleton Elementary School, was recently promoted to assistant principal at New Prospect Elementary School in Anderson.

Back in 2006, he narrowly missed admission but received a letter inviting him to join the brand new Bridge program.   After a successful year at Tri-County, he transferred to Clemson, where he learned from friends about the Call Me MISTER program, a nationally-known scholarship teaching program developed by Clemson University to meet the shortage of African American male teachers in South Carolina's elementary schools.  

He graduated from Clemson in 2011 with an elementary education degree and an educational administration and supervision degree from Southern Wesleyan University and now is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership at Clemson.

Jeremy Johnson a Clemson junior from Columbia majoring in graphic communications, is another Bridge success story.  He says his year at Tri-County prepared him for being a Clemson student.  Johnson is a resident assistant in the Bridge residential community at Highpointe and he mentors new Bridge students.  He is a volunteer firefighter with Friendship Fire Department in Seneca and is a member of a bluegrass gospel band. 

Briana White is currently enrolled in the Bridge program at Tri-County.  An Asheville, NC, native, she is studying psychology with the goal of attending law school.  She is president of Tri-County's Student Government Association.

"The Bridge program helps us educate SC students, which helps to build a stronger productive workforce.  The Bridge program gives lots of amazing students an alternative path of enrollment.  Tri-County Technical College is a critical and vital partner," Clements said.

"Access is important," he said. "Our community depends on this college - to educate our citizens for high-demand jobs in local businesses and industries, particularly manufacturing.  Tri-County graduates fuel our local economy and help attract new jobs and expand our tax base.  Tri-County is such an important part of this community and I am so grateful to have you as a partner as we work together to make South Carolina stronger."