COLUMBIA - A S.C. House panel unanimously passed a measure Wednesday that would create a newly-expanded University of Charleston, backing off a plan to merge the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The new University of Charleston-South Carolina would be the Lowcountry's first comprehensive research university and the fourth such institution statewide. It would be governed by the same board of trustees that runs the College and its functions housed on the C of C campus. The new school would not affect the college's liberal arts degree programs.

While a University of Charleston already exists and offers some post-graduate degrees, the new school would offer expanded graduate offerings, including PhDs, to fill specific workforce needs for the Lowcountry and the state, lawmakers said. Leadership at both MUSC and the College of Charleston have embraced the plan, which now moves from the seven-member panel created to study the issue to another House committee for consideration.

The bill is a compromise to the merger plan, which prompted a loud outcry from both schools and some lawmakers who worried that a forced marriage between the College and MUSC would be difficult to implement and diminish the offerings of both.

If passed, the new University of Charleston would join the University of South Carolina, Clemson and MUSC as one of the state's established comprehensive research universities.

The compromise also is in line with what the College of Charleston's newly-selected president, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, has argued for. He has said that a merger would be a difficult proposition and that tweaking state law - as the committee has proposed - is the way to go.

"What we did today shows we do listen," said Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, a co-author of the original bill that would have merged C of C and MUSC.

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, the other primary proponent of the merger of the two schools, said the compromise achieves what he and others had hoped for.

"It was simple, it was more efficient," he said. "It's just as good. Our main objective was to provide advanced degrees and fill educational needs."

Lawmakers also included language that instructs the two schools to work together and with other technical schools to support workforce development. A new University of Charleston would be required to offer programs that aren't offered elsewhere and those degrees would need to support the demands of area employers, lawmakers said.

Charleston employers would be thrilled with the compromise, said Mary Graham, a Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce official who attended the hearing. Employers have asked for more area offerings in IT, logistics and other areas to meet a growing demand.

"They had to create the structure, and we just did that," Graham said.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.