ROCK HILL, S.C. - “Making the Impossible Possible” is more than the title of the book all Winthrop University freshmen will read this year, President Anthony DiGiorgio told faculty and staff Wednesday morning during an address opening the academic year.
As the university prepares to begin its 125th anniversary year, DiGiorgio challenged the standing-room only audience of 500-plus to address circumstances of plummeting state funding and changes in public expectations of higher education “from a position of strength rooted in Winthrop’s history.”
“We do some of our best work together in times when external realities remind us of how important Winthrop values and spirit of innovation are to the world,” DiGiorgio said, before acknowledging a number of faculty and staff who recently have helped Winthrop “look beyond state government for the financial support we need.”
Responding to what DiGiorgio called the “federalization” of public higher education funding, various university teams over the past 24 months have been awarded more than a dozen federal grants that will help finance Winthrop’s various public service activities, such as working with area school districts, and to provide additional scholarship and academic support resources to students over the next few years. Grants received to date will total $19 million over the next five years, ranging from funding for undergraduate science research to scholarships to encourage and prepare students for graduate school. Approximately $11 million of that federal funding will help support special work that the Richard W. Riley College of Education will do with a variety of high-need school districts in the state.
Pointing out that “tuition and fees now provide the majority of our operating revenue,” DiGiorgio reported that a series of now-permanent state operating fund reductions made over the past two years has taken a toll, even with Winthrop’s cutbacks in spending and this year’s modest 4.9 percent tuition increase.
“What used to be more than $25 million in annual (state) support for Winthrop likely will be closer to $12 million annually for the foreseeable future,” he said, adding, “and now, we see by our morning news, it is clear that our state’s K-12 districts may not be able to qualify for $143 million in federal jobs support funding because South Carolina no longer ‘meets minimum higher education funding requirements.’
“That is a huge and transformative shift in how our higher education enterprise finances itself. But we mislead ourselves and our public if we believe that the shift we are experiencing now is about only money. It isn’t – it is also about what we do and how we do it to fit this new age in which we find ourselves.”
“Educational readiness in the good ol’ days was about the 3 R’s – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic,” DiGiorgio said, but now, there are “five or six more ‘R’s’ to achieve readiness of Winthrop for what futurist David Houle calls “The Shift Age” – the successor to the Information Age. So, DiGiorgio told personnel, part of their work this year will be to:
• “Review what we do and how we do it,
• “Re-evaluate how we can do it all more effectively and efficiently, while keeping faith with the essential values that help define us,
• “Reflect upon what is key for every student to know, and how we can use emerging technologies to assist their knowing, and
• “Reshape and re-organize ourselves – so that we achieve the readiness that is our goal for this process.
“And the trailing edge of all the above will be to reduce our level of spending while retaining our dedication to quality and value.”
In addition to that overarching challenge, Winthrop is preparing for the arrival of new freshmen on Friday and returning students over the weekend. Convocation will be Monday, Aug. 23, with classes beginning the next day.
Awaiting students will be the new DiGiorgio Campus Center, which marks the completion of a new “heart of campus” that has been in development at Winthrop since the early part of the decade. Those facilities include the Lois Rhame West Health, Physical Education and Wellness Center and Glenda and Jerry R. Owens Hall, both completed in 2007.
Owens Hall suffered major damage in March, when extinguishing a roof fire saturated the high-tech building with over a million gallons of water. Restoration of that building continues, and classes are expected to return to the space in mid-fall.