Remarks - President's Briefing
Friday, April 22, 2011
1 p.m. Tillman Auditorium
Good afternoon, everyone – and thanks to all of you for coming today. It's hard to believe we are on the threshold of winding up another academic year.
It was just one year ago that we gathered in this room to talk about the outlook for our future on two fronts:
- On the financial front, we were facing a very uncertain budget year, as the economy in general and state funding in particular continued to be precarious. We weren't quite sure what the 'new normal' would be.
- And on the academic front, we knew what is expected of higher education had begun to shift as well, and that Winthrop needed to do some careful thinking and planning about how we wanted to respond in order to be ready for the shift from 'the new normal' to 'the new future' and all that implies for educational readiness for our students.
The Readiness Winthrop initiative was authorized by the Board of Trustees last April to extend for 12 to 15 months from that time.
As we said then, in the good old days, educational readiness was about delivering the 3R's – reading, writing and 'rithmetic.
These days, it takes a lot more R's. So over the past several months, we've been :
- Reviewing how we do everything we do.
- Reflecting about how we can do it more effectively and efficiently, while adhering to the essential values that help define us
- Re-thinking what is key for every student to know, and how we can use the technologies our students adore to assist their learning,
- Reorganizing ourselves as necessary, so that we achieve the readiness that is our goal for this process , and in the process
- Reducing our spending where possible.
All along, the end goal has been the most important "R" of all: And that's Readiness –both readiness for meeting fiscal realities… another R word…. as well as Readiness to meet our students' evolving educational expectations in a global society that is increasingly organized around a global economy.
In that way, I am confident in telling you today that Winthrop will be all the stronger for our having undertaken this work, in this way, at this time.
Why? Because we no longer are responding to change – we are now beginning to harness that change and making it work for us and for our students.
Yes, there will continue to be fiscal realities with which we have to deal. Nobody in Columbia has yet figured out how to make Palmetto trees produce revenue.
That's why we said back in Spring 2007 – even before the Great Recession began -- that Winthrop's path to the future would involve much greater self-reliance. It was in that timeframe that we re-organized ourselves to have both a division of Advancement and Enrollment Management, dedicated to recruitment of future students for Winthrop – and eventual growth in our enrollment -- and a division of Development and Alumni Relations, dedicated to outreach to potential donors and private resources.
That step is proving integral to both how we have met recent economic circumstances, and how we are harnessing change going forward to ensure Winthrop's viability and growth over time – in other words, sustainable Readiness.
The Readiness Winthrop Initiative is organized into six major categories. I will talk a bit about each one of those categories in a few minutes.
First, however, I want to thank everyone on campus for the collaborative spirit that has characterized this work at Winthrop. There have been countless working groups across campus – involving faculty and staff alike – that have participated in this initiative. The Faculty Committee on University Priorities has been an important sounding board at key junctures along the way, and the Executive Officers have put in a total of 17 very long retreat days – about three times the number in a usual year – to address the complex issues at hand.
Everyone clearly has understood the fiscal realities of the times. Rather than feeling constricted by those realities, it seems that folks have seen those realities as a license to think both "outside the box," as the saying goes, and also, increasingly "across disciplines." If anything has been a turbo-booster to this work, it has been that good spirit.
While the times do not allow either our state or our trustees to reward that work with salary increases or bonuses just yet, please know that will become a very high priority when we turn the corner and put uncertain economic times behind us.
The initiative that has resulted from Readiness Winthrop – like our Vision of Distinction – has no final "end" in mind. That's because Readiness is more than a goal to be achieved. It is also a state of being that must be sustained over time.
So, here is the essence of Readiness Winthrop. Some aspects of it you will recognize as objectives in which you recently have become involved, perhaps without realizing that they are a part of Readiness Winthrop. Other objectives will require work only now being outlined.
All of them will find their way into the upcoming Vision of Distinction for Academic Year 2011-2012.
The key objectives going forward are:
- Retaining Students
- Recruiting Students
- Revising Existing Programs and Creating New Programs
- Enhancing Revenues
- Creating Efficiencies
- Investing in the Future
Now, let me tell you a bit more about each in the time we have remaining.
Objective One: Retaining Students
- All across America every year, colleges and universities devote a great many resources to recruiting students, but some of those recruits leave the university before earning a degree.
That's a loss to the students, of course, yet it is also a loss to our state and to our nation, if that student fails to earn a degree. In public policy circles, it means Pell Grant and Lottery Scholarship dollars may not yield maximum return. In private lives, it means students who drop out have more limited earning potential compared to those who persist. Over time, they are generally less engaged citizens as well.
At the institutional level, each transfer or dropout student needs to be replaced by a newly recruited student, just to keep tuition revenue level. Since it costs more to recruit a new student than to serve an existing one, it is to everyone's benefit to retain each student and keep him or her on the road to earning a degree. We have already been doing a great deal in this regard, and we will be doing more:
- We have put in place a process by which we will systematically learn more about why students leave before earning a degree, and are developing strategies to stem that loss;
- Next, we have organized and delivered our Academic Success Center and other student support programs to be an integral part of academic life for all students on campus.
- And finally, we have and will continue to work to make Winthrop and Rock Hill an ever-more interesting place to be part of an engaged, success-oriented academic community.
Increasingly in the public sector, public funding support will be tied to institution's success in persistence and graduation, which makes this an even more important part of Readiness Winthrop.
Objective Two: Recruiting Students
Because Winthrop's economic future increasingly is tied to tuition revenues rather than public funds, Winthrop's outreach to prospective students has become more multi-dimensional and personalized in important ways. For instance:
- During a recent Preview Day, numerous faculty and staff were on hand to be sure parents and prospective students hear about our varied major and program options, our national quality, and the aspects of Winthrop that make our programs special or unique.
- Special attention to transfer students already is making that process more customer friendly, and will continue to do so as admissions counselors are trained to evaluate transcripts for quicker admission decisions.
- We are refining our web presence and other recruitment materials to emphasize more intentionally what it is prospective students want to know. Messages connect specific programs to interests expressed by specific prospective students, inform student prospects about unique programs and enrichment opportunities available at Winthrop, engage parents in the selection process, and increasingly personalize interactions leading to enrollment.
- Often, our present students are our best ambassadors to prospective students, so their stories are finding a higher profile in enrollment outreach. Students drawn to service-oriented universities, diverse campuses, and specialized learning communities, among other groups, will be a particular focus among Winthrop recruitment strategies.
Objective Three: Academic Program Development
One thing about student recruitment that hasn't changed is that the first question students ask is "does Winthrop have the program I want?"
But the programs they want have changed somewhat, and that is part of what I mean when I say Winthrop will be harnessing change and making it work for our future.
A few examples, among many:
- Winthrop recently announced the creation of a Department of Interdisciplinary Studies that will serve as an incubator for new interdisciplinary programs that will connect various offerings of various colleges in various combinations attractive to today – and tomorrow's -- students. It will also be the home for an individualized major opportunity currently under development.
- Heading that department will be Marsha Bollinger, whose background as the Dalton Chair in Environmental Studies and Environmental Sciences has prepared her to think across disciplines in such areas as sustainability. Winthrop will offer a new Sustainability Studies minor in the Fall, and we believe this will evolve into an important and expanding new academic area for Winthrop. Already, the College of Business Administration is adding a concentration in Sustainable Business to its Bachelor of Science offerings for Fall.
- The interdisciplinary Digital Information Design program is receiving new emphasis in recruitment, reflecting a growing interest among students who want to work in this field. Concurrently, the overall Mass Communications curriculum has been re-designed to reflect the increasing convergence between new and traditional media.
- Adding business as a minor is enabling Bachelor of Arts candidates to "professionalize their passion" – and see an entire array of potential professional paths aligned with their love of design, performance or other creative arts.
- Other areas where new program offerings are soon to be introduced or are otherwise on a fast-track for development include:
- Five-year combined bachelor/masters options, resulting in the Master of Social Work, Master of Business Administration and Master of Arts in Teaching.
- Music theater as a new concentration for Theater majors, and
- Legal studies as a new academic option
- Also those bachelor's degree programs where courses can be sequenced for completion in three years by students who choose to do so have been identified.
In many ways, these are exciting times to be a part of the academic enterprise, as we all explore new ways to present information and develop key capacities within our students.
It is made an all the more exciting time by the fact that students of today learn in very different ways from their elders, and by exploring how to reach them best, we expand our own learning and re-invigorate our own professional lives.
Objective Four: Enhancing Revenue/Private Support
Parallel with our academic review and re-vamping has been the development of strategies to enhance our revenue through new grant outreach, new initiatives in broadening Winthrop's private support and dedication of some revenues to specific purposes.
- An example of the latter is a new safety fee approved by the Board of Trustees last week. The proceeds of this $25 student fee will be dedicated to keeping our campus environment as safe as possible, including through the maintenance and upkeep of safety systems put in place in the aftermath of sad events at Virginia Tech. Those events prompted an era of increased expectations among students, parents and educators nationwide. Winthrop responded with major investments in our ALERTUS and cell-messaging systems, among other things – even though the state did not provide revenues for that work. This fee will see to it that such services have a dedicated revenue stream to support them going forward, so that academic and other key needs do not have to compete with safety needs for resources.
- Other areas where user fees have had to be re-considered include the array of career services available to alumni who already are established in the job market and the full-range of health services available to part-time students.
- Meanwhile, a number of Winthrop faculty and staff have been creative and innovative in pursing grant opportunities in recent years. Some of those are from federal sources, yet there also are opportunities on the private grant front that we will be encouraging in the near future.
- Likewise, we know that Winthrop has a wide array of supporters in this region, and they have a wide array of interests. Some follow our artistic and cultural events calendars, and plan their lives accordingly. Others wouldn't miss a ballgame or a tennis tournament. Others might want access to special Winthrop events for their employees, individually or collectively.
- For that reason, Winthrop is developing a package of special event subscriptions that will be marketed to residents and businesses in the region as a means of building on their relationships with Winthrop. We're calling them "Garnet and Gold" packages, and you can expect details to come in the Fall. This is another way of expanding opportunities for the public to be a part of the life of the campus.
- Perhaps most exciting part of this objective, however, is an initiative that has been going on quietly, mostly behind the scenes, for more than two years, but will be becoming much more public in our next academic year. That is Winthrop's second-ever capital campaign.
- The campaign, which was endorsed by the Board of Trustees last Friday, will be called "Distinction: The Campaign for Winthrop." It will emphasize three primary goals:
- Supporting our commitment to excellence, with resources to build on our record of academic rigor and high standards.
- Supporting expansion of our global capacities, by building on our Global Learning Initiative to enhance preparation of students to excel in a rapidly changing world.
- Supporting our commitment to access through scholarships that will assist the best and most promising students in having their Winthrop Experience.
We will all hear more about this campaign when it is launched publicly in the Fall, but I did want to share with you today that outreach for additional private support is very much a part of our Readiness Winthrop plan.
Readiness Winthrop's fifth and sixth objectives go hand in hand with reaching out to develop new private support.
Donors and taxpayers these days have a key perspective in common: they want to know that institutions are working as efficiently as possible with their current resources, and that the people who make up public institutions are willing to invest themselves in those areas where they seek additional revenues.
So Objective Five is to create additional efficiencies in our current operations all across the university.
And Objective Six is to invest in areas key to Winthrop sustaining its readiness for the future.
One area where we can gain some efficiencies is an area where we already are making significant dollar investments – and very formidable investments in time and toil … and maybe even a few tears as well – yes, Banner!
The work that has gone – and is continuing to go – into Banner has been nothing short of heroic. Now it is time to start reaping some of the benefits.
Beginning in July, we will see a transition to a number of paperless processes. So, all you folks who may have plans away from campus this summer, please listen especially closely. Even if you have direct deposit of your salary, things will still be different for you.
And if you don't have direct deposit yet, please see Human Resources as soon as possible to set it up.
Beginning in July, our pay stubs will no longer come to us in old-fashioned envelopes. In fact, they won't involve paper at all, unless you choose to print them yourself.
Banner will enable Winthrop to use "self-serve" on-line pay check information and employment notification systems. Let me repeat that: Banner will enable Winthrop to use "self-serve" on-line pay check information and employment notification systems, starting July 1.
So rather than getting employment letters, pay stubs and other personnel information sent to you through the mail, you will have an account to log into via computer, where you can see all that information on-line, and print only what you need to have in hard copy.
The estimated savings in going paperless with these processes is thousands of dollars -- clearly a significant figure, and a major step forward in efficiency.
That brings us to Objective Six: Investments.
Winthrop's secret to success over the years always has been that we first identify what we need to do to achieve excellence and distinction, then we work on how to pay for it.
So it is with Readiness Winthrop as well.
Some of the key investments in the year ahead are:
- Our Global Learning Initiative – which our SACS visiting team said could be a national model for a SACS-required Quality Enhancement Plan– will require an $80,000 investment over the next year.
- Our outreach to academically talented students in two areas – science and athletics – will require additional investments.
- The first installment is acquisition of $2 million worth of needed science equipment through the State's Master Lease program. The funding for that will come from existing debt service capacity and require no additional fee.
- As indicated earlier this year, we also will add a women's lacrosse team that already has attracted new students to Winthrop.
- And we will be tapping donor support to fund a campus sustainability coordinator who can work across divisions to link our campus commitment to organizational sustainability with our academic initiatives in this area.
And there you have just a few highlights of all the work that has been started and continues to go on under the Readiness Winthrop initiative.
Over the summer, these initiatives will find expression in our Vision of Distinction for the next academic year.
Concurrently, we will be working on our own spending allocation plan for the year ahead.
As I told you this time last year, hearing what our appropriations from the state will be… is now only a small part of Winthrop's own budget planning. We will use that to make a tuition recommendation to the Board of Trustees in June, but even that is not the final variable in our budgeting.
That must await our final enrollment figures in the Fall, when we can determine what our final revenues from all sources of revenue will be.
As I shared with you earlier in the week, we know that cost-savings and efficiencies will have to help us prepare for the loss of $3.4 million in federal stimulus funds, and almost $800,000 less in state appropriations next year.
We must add to that the investments that we have outlined, as well as other annualizations, such as the employer share of health insurance for all employees, which will increase at least $325,000 next year.
Add to that the same unknowns that we all deal with in our personal lives – what will be the cost of fuel for the winter and gasoline for our fleet? – and you can see how financial planning at Winthrop is now a 12-months a year job.
So, where does all that leave us?
Through the careful management of vacancies, by carrying forward existing reserves, and through a variety of economies and efficiencies, we have been able to reduce a very large deficit to a manageable deficit.
We will not know how manageable until all information is available next Fall. The best guidance I can provide now is the same guidance I provided last year at this time.
And that is, that the very worst-case scenario I can envision now is 3 to 4 days of furlough if we experience significant setbacks in any of the key areas yet to be determined.
As you have seen over recent years, furloughs are our very last resort. Thankfully, we have not had to invoke furlough days since the initial arrival of the Great Recession in Fall 2008 caught everyone by surprise.
I credit that accomplishment to members of this campus community, who have been willing to step up and make shared sacrifices, take on additional responsibilities, and to explore all the options I've outlined here to be sure Winthrop has a future as bright as its past.
In this, Winthrop's 125th year, I can tell you that adapting to change is in this institution's DNA, and I have seen affirmation of that on this campus every day since the Fall of 2008.
Through this work, I also can tell you Winthrop is achieving Readiness for our future – and together, we can sustain that Readiness. We are continuing to demonstrate our commitment to being, as required by state law, a "first class institution of higher learning," adding programs and features "as the progress of the times may require."
That commitment most assuredly will ensure Winthrop's readiness to serve generations of students to come –students already preparing to come to us, and counting on us to be ready when they arrive.
That is the work that unites us as 2011's Commencements approach, and as the next academic year appears on our horizon. So on to that future!
Meanwhile, thank you for coming, and I will see you on the home stretch next week.