Current as of October 4, 2012
It seems difficult to believe we have turned the calendar to October and students are already talking about Fall Break, but that is our reality in this fast-moving year.
My Friday calendar will not allow me to attend Faculty Conference, so let me take this opportunity to update faculty and staff alike on two processes shaping Winthrop’s future: the budget picture and the search for Winthrop’s tenth president.
I was told by the chair of the Presidential Search and Selection Committee that a really good cross-section of the campus community turned out for meetings with the search consultant in September, and that there was a good flow of conversation that the Committee’s search consultant will use to inform her outreach to potential candidates. While I was not at all surprised to hear how passionately those who shared their thoughts were in expressing their love for Winthrop and their dedication to its future, it was affirming to hear the Winthrop professional community had been described afterward by the consultant as one with a clear vision and a widely shared set of values that give the campus a sense of shared purpose. That sense of shared purpose will serve Winthrop well during the search and selection process and the transition ahead.
Less clear (at least for now) is the economic context in which Winthrop will operate in both the near- and long-term. Economic signals are very mixed both nationally and in South Carolina, with reports of increased economic activity in some sectors conflicting with continuing high unemployment. The state Board of Economic Advisers met last week, and took no budget-altering steps for now, but did send some signals of concern for the next calendar year.
Officials said they had expected personal income in South Carolina to grow by 4 percent, but it grew by only 3 percent – a factor that will further restrict state revenue collections where sales taxes are concerned. Collection of revenue that funds state government was only slightly ahead of last year’s levels. Given that the state did not have the level of surplus expected when it closed the books on the fiscal year that ended June 30, some allocations made by the General Assembly from that source have had to be dialed back, but none of those involved Winthrop.
One other upcoming event could impact state revenues during this academic year: Federal tax cuts that had been put in place back in 2008 will expire (unless Congress extends them) on January 1, which will reduce take-home pay for most earners. That, in turn, likely will cause a dip in consumer purchases that would generate state sales taxes. Congress will hold a “lame-duck” session after the November election, and greater clarity on this front is expected to emerge from that.
With all these mixed signals, I have asked Winthrop’s leadership to continue to spend current-year funds as carefully as possible for the foreseeable future, knowing that some of the state funds allocated to Winthrop this year are one-time funds only, and that our recurring state appropriation remains basically unimproved since the reductions taken during the Great Recession.
It likely will be several weeks more before we have a clearer idea of what the state’s revenue picture will be for both the current fiscal year and the one ahead, as officials in Columbia are keeping a close eye on Washington events as well. Some sense of direction will come following the presidential election, of course, so both presidential candidates’ campaign statements and policy papers are being closely watched in regard to higher education in general and student aid programs in particular.
Meanwhile, Winthrop continues to stay in close touch with key federal and state leaders to keep them apprised of Winthrop’s needs, hosting them on campus when their schedules allow, and staying in touch with them when they are in session in Washington/Columbia.
Closer to home, work continues with the City of Rock Hill on several fronts. Next week, City Council will review a bicycle/pedestrian safety plan that includes eventual designation of some bike routes around the main campus environs and in the Winthrop Lake area. City staff has recognized the important priority of pedestrian safety on the Winthrop campus, particularly at class change times, and has worked with us to maintain that high level of safety in this process.
In addition, Winthrop hosted a meeting of both York County and city staff in September to begin discussion of the planning process for Cherry Road improvements in the campus environs. The resources for this work -- $1.1 million – were included in York County’s Pennies for Progress referendum in August 2011, along with additional resources for work along the White Street corridor between campus and downtown Rock Hill. Timetables for these projects are still in development.
We will continue to update you throughout the year on all these matters as warranted.