ROCK HILL, S.C. - South Carolina’s public universities face two challenges as they welcome new and returning students to campus over the next few weeks, Winthrop University President Anthony DiGiorgio told faculty and staff Wednesday:
• State operating funds now provide less than 10 percent of most campuses’ revenues – just 9.6 percent at Winthrop -- and there is no sign public funding will improve markedly in the near future.
• Even as funding has been declining, expectations of higher education continue to grow greater, with the future of the state and nation as well as individual students’ goals hanging in the balance.
As Winthrop begins its 126th year, DiGiorgio emphasized in the opening address that Winthrop’s future is more than ever in its own hands, noting that if state operating funds were the only source of revenue for the university, it would be able to pay salaries for the fiscal year from July 1 to only September 5 – barely into the academic year. Student tuition and academic fees now constitute 56 percent of university revenue, with grants, donor funds, and other contracts providing the resources for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
As profound as the changes in higher education finance are, DiGiorgio said the changes in what students, employers and society need and expect from higher education are even greater.
But, he sounded a note of optimism by saying “Winthrop is academically on course” to meet those needs, and cited several new and existing initiatives as examples:
• Some bachelor’s degrees are now achievable in three-years.
• Some options are now available leading to both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years.
• A new “Global Learning Initiative” is preparing students from all backgrounds to live and work in an increasingly interconnected world, both socially and economically. The cross-campus initiative is led by Dr. Karen Kedrowski and University College Dean Gloria Jones.
• A new Department of Interdisciplinary Studies will coordinate selected existing interdisciplinary programs and develop new ones, including in the field of sustainability. That initiative has the support of long-time Winthrop supporters Harry and Becca Dalton of Rock Hill. The new department also will coordinate opportunities for honors students to develop interdisciplinary “individualized majors.” The department will be led by Dr. Marsha Bollinger.
• Other programs under feasibility review or in development because of market demand include health-related professional programs, such as gerontology; music theater as a concentration in theater major; non-profit management, survey research, and legal studies as an academic minor.
The new features are outcomes of an 18-month process called “Readiness Winthrop” in which DiGiorgio challenged the campus to “review, re-think, reflect, re-evaluate, re-organize and revise everything we do to meet the demands of the times,” while also protecting the quality and value of what Winthrop offers. Initiatives from that process have been integrated into Winthrop’s traditional annual work plan.
The new initiatives are being paid for through a mix of donor support, savings from management initiatives, and this year’s smallest-ever 3.95 percent tuition increase.
DiGiorgio said trends evident as the nation emerges from the Great Recession affirm that Winthrop already “had our fundamentals right” in terms of both the capacities embedded with all students, regardless of major, as well as the values, ethics and integrity that are core commitments at Winthrop.
He told faculty and staff students in a post-Recession world should be guided from now on to think of themselves as “their own best continuous work in progress,” building a portfolio of capacities and experiences that will make them successful as professionals and as citizens in an ever-changing world.
DiGiorgio said current students nowadays must be prepared to compete with “not only the best and brightest in South Carolina, or in the United States, but also the best and brightest of China, India and every other developed nation of the world,” adding that they are unlikely to work for the same organization for two, three or four decades, as previous generations often did.
To succeed, he said, students will have to develop capacities that make them the most valuable to employers, and many should expect to move from assignment to assignment as an independent contractor, rather like an athlete who is a free agent, able to negotiate for the best remuneration for his or her skills and expertise.
The challenge, he told faculty and staff, boils down to “how can a university degree be sustainable -- and sustaining -- in this new type of future?”
“A sustainable education,” he said, “is one that endures… that stands up to the tests of time… that embeds within students the lifelong capacities and habits of mind to be able to continue to seek new information, synthesize that information critically, and… make good decisions, no matter what challenges they may face in their lives.”
What makes Winthrop “on course” in meeting that challenge, he said, is embedding in students:
• The capacity to think critically and solve problems,
• The capacity to be personally and socially responsible,
• The capacity to understand the interconnected nature of the world and the time in which they live, and
• The capacity to communicate effectively.
Increasingly, he said, three new over-arching capacities are being included, too: The capacity to work as part of a problem-solving team, the capacity to use technology fluently to aid communication, and most of all, “the capacity to innovate.”
“That is a higher education that will be sustainable and sustaining in these rapidly changing and challenging times,” he added.
For the first time in several years, Winthrop is opening an academic year with no major new facility under construction, after last year completing its five-year building plan, which added a new general classroom building, Owens Hall; the West Center, housing health, physical education and wellness facilities; the DiGiorgio Campus Center, which houses student organizations, food services, the university bookstore, and a range of larger meeting facilities, and Carroll Hall, containing classrooms and the Carroll Capital Markets Training and Trading Center, which connects students to global markets through interactive technology.
During the year ahead, some older buildings, including Dacus Library and Dinkins Hall, will have modifications made using existing debt capacity, which means no new fees are needed. Remodeling of residential spaces in the 1943-era Phelps Hall, begun last year, will continue through this academic year. When it is complete, Winthrop plans to take the 1920-era Roddey Apartments off-line for modernization and adaptive re-use for other needs, DiGiorgio said.
Winthrop students will be moving onto campus beginning Friday. Convocation on Monday will mark the official induction of new students into the Winthrop campus community, and classes will begin on Tuesday.