ROCK HILL, S.C. - Already recognized as one of the nation’s best values in higher education, Winthrop University is targeting an even higher profile in years to come: national prominence.
President Anthony DiGiorgio set out that prospect this morning in his annual address to faculty and staff gathering for next week’s opening of Winthrop’s 2008-2009 academic year.
DiGiorgio, who has led Winthrop for almost two decades, noted that the goal of achieving national prominence won’t be realized “overnight,” especially in times of declining state financial support, but that it ultimately will add value to the degree of every Winthrop alumni, past and future, as well as contribute to incremental enrollment growth over time.
Winthrop’s undergraduate and enrollment has held steady at approximately 6,400 in recent years, as the university itself underwrote a 21st century update of its foundational academic program for all undergraduates and invested in needed academic facilities for which the state was not providing funding. Now that those facilities are in place or under construction to serve additional students, the university will begin to grow enrollment, likely to a level of approximately 7,500 over time.
While Winthrop intends to fulfill its role as a public university by keeping in-state enrollment of at least 75 percent – which is considerably more than many publicly funded institutions in South Carolina – it also expects to open its doors to somewhat more out-of-state applicants in the future than in the past, reflecting the reduction in level of state support for the institution.
DiGiorgio noted that when he first came to Winthrop in 1990 – the same year most of this term’s entering freshmen were born – the state provided about 44 percent of Winthrop’s overall revenues. Now, he noted, that amount has declined to 17 percent, counting a giveback of almost $700,000 ordered by state officials last week. While those cuts were made across the board, the University has noted in recent years that special annual legislative earmarks of operating funds to institutions in some other parts of the have returned their respective levels of funding to pre-September 11 levels or more, while Winthrop’s annual support level is still short of that mark. State funding reductions that can’t be addressed through efficient management have to be made up via tuition.
DiGiorgio told university faculty and staff that he was elaborating on these realities, “not to depress us as we begin this year together, but to empower all of us, individually and collectively, to address these challenges as we always have: Together, because that is when we are our strongest.”
He called upon personnel to continue working to pare costs where that’s possible without adversely affecting quality, and also gave them a message to deliver to friends and neighbors who might see construction going on at Winthrop and then wonder if spending cuts are having any impact: “…major bricks and mortar investments are coming from funds we long ago created, designated and dedicated to those purposes – not from the operating budget that funds our day-to-day work.”
The quality of the Winthrop approach is beginning to demonstrate educational dividends, DiGiorgio reported, in that students who reside on campus as part of Winthrop’s “Live. Learn. Lead” approach are staying enrolled and making academic progress at a higher rate than students who do not live on campus.
In addition, Winthrop students outpace peers on nationally recognized learning assessment tests and in national surveys regarding their level of engagement in aspects of college life deemed predictive of later life success.
Current editions of two national publications, Princeton Review’s America’s Best Value Colleges and Barron’s Best Buys in College Education include Winthrop. Another prominent general guide produced by US News and World Report will be released later this week. Winthrop has been in its Southeastern ‘best’ public master’s level university listings for over a dozen years.
While those publications have brought Winthrop and South Carolina positive recognition in higher education circles nationally, national prominence in terms of general public awareness is also within reach, faculty and staff were told. Having a ‘‘college town’’ environment around the campus is a top priority for Winthrop now, DiGiorgio said, because current conditions immediately adjacent to Winthrop in this area and along Cherry Road continue to impact how prospective students and their families see Rock Hill and the campus environs.
“We continue to press the City of Rock Hill to work on the Cherry Road corridor immediately across from campus to give it a more pedestrian friendly and investment friendly streetscape and feel,” he said.
DiGiorgio long has been on record in encouraging “the kind of development that complements our own, as timely investments in these areas are the best way the university can be aided and supported in doing all we can to be a boon to the overall economic development of the city and region.”
To date, an estimated $85 million in new campus facilities have been finished or are underway to prepare Winthrop for incremental growth in ways that support Rock Hill’s urban core redevelopment strategies.
Currently under construction are a $30 million new Campus Center and the $7 million Carroll Hall, which will be part of the Winthrop College of Business Administration and home to the Carroll Capitol Markets Trading and Training Center for students pursuing degrees in fields related to global markets and wealth management.
Next on the drawing board is a new library for which Winthrop has been awaiting state funding for years. The project, originally estimated at $35 million, is expected to cost at least $45 million or more by the time construction funds are allocated.
DiGiorgio said he is hopeful a bond bill including institutions like Winthrop will be put together by the General Assembly in early 2009.
Winthrop convocation ceremonies will be held on Monday to welcome the incoming class of freshmen. Classes will begin Tuesday.