Opening Address: Refresh, Renew, and Rise
By Dr. Jayne Marie (Jamie) Comstock, August 13, 2013
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the opening of Winthrop University’s 128th academic year!
I am thrilled to say that today is my 44th day as President of Winthrop University! Thank you for the opportunity to serve as the President of this fine institution. I promise to do all I know how to do to serve you and our mission well. I am eager to work with you as we refresh our thinking, renew our strategies, and put Winthrop on the rise!
And, now, I would like to welcome you to this celebration of the International Year of the Statistic!
Not what you were expecting?
Don’t start yawning and tune me out too soon. Like I’ve always told my research methods students, statistics are our friends. And, statistics are actually the best of friends to people and organizations that want to produce a positive, collective impact on their mission-driven outcome measures.
You might as well get used to it. I firmly believe that (1) "We can’t improve what we don’t measure," and (2) What we measure is what we pay attention to. That is, what we measure is what gets fixed.
Data tell us where we have made progress and where we have the opportunity to improve. However, there is a time in every organization’s life cycle when it needs to use benchmarking data to conduct what I like to call a “navigational fix.”
Where are we? And, where are we compared to our aspirant institutions? Where is the horizon? What is our destination? What is the best way for us to get from where we are, to where we want to be? What do we need to know about the prevailing winds and currents before we set out toward our goal? And, most importantly, what is Winthrop’s “true north”?
That’s what I want to talk with you about today. I believe Winthrop has arrived at a strategic inflection point in its institutional life-cycle that demands our collective attention and a navigational fix.
The Sigmoid Curve
This concept of a strategic inflection point comes through application of Charles Handy’s conceptualization of the Sigmoid Curve, which he described in his 1995 book titled “The Empty Raincoat: Making Sense of the Future” . The Sigmoid Curve has been used as a guide to explain the rise, fall, and renewal of many businesses and higher education institutions.
“The Sigmoid Curve”, name comes from the Greek letter S, as the curve is like an S sitting on its side.
When applied to institutions like Winthrop, the Sigmoid Curve can be segmented into four phases: (1) the Learning Phase; (2) The Growth Phase; (3) The Maturation Phase – which is like a plateau and (4) The Decline Phase, which is almost impossible to turn around due to diminishing resources and decreases in faculty and staff morale.
The model illustrates that the secret to continual institutional development is to anticipate the need to plan and implement renewal initiatives when things are going well and organizational growth is on the rise – before it plateaus. The ideal time to plan for renewal is when there is still momentum, just not as strong as once was. You’ll see this on point A on the Sigmoid Curve Diagram, just before the plateau. It is at Point A that institutions should assess the prevailing currents in higher education, including the changing demographics and learning needs of our prospective student population.
Not surprisingly, the need to implement strategic renewal becomes more pressing –and more difficult – as growth and progress begin to plateau, as you can see at point B on the Sigmoid Curve.
I call this the "strategic inflection point," because this is when most universities begin to find themselves in the middle of changing currents and realize the need to invigorate their programs, revitalize their practices, and stoke the fire under their brand.
When universities fail to implement a new growth plan before institutional decline begins, they will arrive at a point of crises, where strategic renewal is overtaken by crises intervention strategies. Institutional turn-around from this point is quite difficult.
The key to future organizational success is to consistently scan the environment for emerging trends and opportunities so that we do not miss the chance to leverage our strengths and plot a new course for mission-driven renewal and growth.
To be "on the rise" across our university’s life cycle, we should have a series of rising curves that looks like this (graphic from managetrainlearn.com):
So, where is Winthrop University on the Sigmoid Curve?
My assessment shows that Winthrop is at Point B. We have arrived at a very important strategic inflection point, characterized by a mixed bag of performance on key indicators of success.
This morning, I will rely on our most recent available statistics to help us get a "navigational fix." I will situate our renewal opportunities within the prevailing winds and currents of the national higher education agenda. And, I will plot where we are on some key variables compared to our aspirant institutions. After sharing this analysis with you, I will set up a series of questions that will guide our critical conversations for the fall semester. Then, in the spring – during Inauguration Week – I will set a course of renewal for Winthrop University that we will have designed together.
Currents Challenging National Higher Education
To conduct a "navigational fix" for Winthrop that will allow us to renew our institutional vision and plans, we must have a clear understanding of four important and interrelated currents rocking the contemporary national higher education agenda.
- We must understand the national agenda to increase the percentage of adults with a high quality college degree. We call this the "attainment agenda."
- We must understand the changing student archetype.
- We must understand the concern for affordability that stems from the rising costs of college and increase in student debt.
- And, we must understand the concern for accountability, which is most often measured by retention and graduation rates.
James Thurber once wrote that "it is better to know some of the questions, than all of the answers". And, I think he was right.
Let's begin to identify the critical questions facing Winthrop, by looking first at the numbers driving the "attainment agenda".
The big magic numbers driving the national attainment agenda are 60% by 2025.
All across our nation, state and local governments, higher education associations, leading foundations, and hundreds of college and universities have embraced a vision for America’s future that includes having the world’s largest share of college students by year Twenty-Twenty-Five (2025). The Lumina Foundation calls it Goal 2025. But the Obama Administration aims to achieve the goal even sooner.
Achieving this goal requires a backbone of key leaders coordinating a nationwide set of initiatives aimed at increasing from 40% to 60% the percentage of adults in our country with completed college degrees and certificates. And, in a recent Open Letter to Colleges and University Leaders, the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment has called on all of us to seize opportunities to advance this agenda.
As you know, I have answered the call to make degree attainment a high priority at Winthrop.
Despite national initiatives aimed at increasing access to quality higher education, our collective progress is slow and incremental. According to a 2012 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only 42% of Americans age 25-64 have an associate degree or higher, and only 32% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Lumina recently released its fourth-annual report on progress toward the college attainment goal. This report, based on 2012 data, showed that the U.S. Higher Education Attainment Rate for all working age adults (age 25-64) increased from 38.3% to 38.7%.
The news is a bit better for young adults (age 24-34), whose higher education attainment rate moved over the 40% mark to 40.1%. This is a good leading indicator that we are moving the needle on this important national goal.
But, the movement is too slow.
To put this into perspective, with regard to younger adults having college degrees, the U.S. improved by 1% from 2000-2012, while South Korea has improved by 52%.
The relatively low degree attainment for our young adults is troubling because it foreshadows how our country will be in the future.
So why is the 60% attainment goal so important? Because by 2018 – in just five years – about 65% of U.S. jobs will require some level of postsecondary education.
According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, we are a decade behind. If we proceed at the current pace, we will lose more jobs to our international competitors and we will broaden our country's earning-power divide.
If we don't step up and become part of the solution, the poor will get poorer and the middle class will fail to thrive.
South Carolina falls behind the curve on the higher education attainment goal. According to U.S. Census data, the South Carolina attainment rate is actually declining. Last year, the rate was 34.8 percent, and this year the rate was 34.2%.
Moreover, South Carolina ranks 49th in percentage of incoming 9th graders who graduate from high school in four years with a regular degree.
With only 62.2% of South Carolina youth graduating from high school, it is not surprising that our state's Higher Education attainment rate is so low. Students can't access and complete a college degree if they do not first earn a high school diploma.
But, I am not walking on sunshine for no reason. There is good news on the horizon.
The number of Americans attending college is at an historic high. Enrollment in public 4-year institutions has gone up 24% in the last 10 years. Data from South Carolina also show that undergraduate enrollment in state-sponsored comprehensive teaching institutions is up an average of 22.1% from 2002-2012.
At Winthrop, however, we have kept undergraduate enrollment relatively flat during this same 10-year period.
Winthrop can and should be part the solution for South Carolina and our nation. And, we are.
The good news is that I believe we have the capacity to expand and renew our efforts to support the access portion of the degree attainment agenda.
From the time I was a young girl, I was a goal-oriented high achiever. I went after good grades, 4-H achievement certificates, cheerleading, class offices, trophies at debate and speech contests, and roles in the school musicals and plays, and I even joined swing choir (which was our version of Glee).
But, I lived in a small town, surrounded by like-minded friends and a loving, middle-class family. Things came easy for me. So, when I got to Illinois State University, I applied the same effort I did in high school. That is, until I enrolled in Dr. Mike Shelley's journalism class. One day he gave me back an assignment that earned 9 out of 10 possible points and an "A." I was very pleased...until I read Dr. Shelley's note to me. It said, "Comstock, one of these days you are going to have to learn the difference between 'good enough' and 'good.'"
And, that's how I feel about Winthrop's performance on some key variables like enrollment growth.
Perhaps it has been "good enough" for our enrollment to remain flat over a 10-year period. But, to me this long plateau is one of the key indicators that Winthrop has clearly reached that "strategic inflection point" on the Sigmoid Curve – that we have the exciting opportunity to begin a new learning curve – and that our university is ripe for renewal.
As you can see from this diagram, we have plateaued at the top of our growth curve. And, we need to seize the opportunity to re-invigorate our programs, revitalize our practices, and stoke the fire under the Winthrop brand.
For the past several weeks, I have been poring over the statistics that describe Winthrop in comparison to the 24 other institutions that make up the US News list of the Top 25 Regional Universities in the South. During this analysis, I have paid very close attention to how we compare to the eight public, comprehensive institutions that rank above us on that list.
For the purposes of this analysis, I considered these eight schools our aspirant institutions. The eight public universities ranked higher than Winthrop include: The Citadel, James Madison University, Appalachian State University, the College of Charleston, the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, the University of Mary Washington, Murray State University, and Christopher Newport University. (The Citadel is really in a category by itself and an outlier in my analysis, so unless I mention otherwise, I left The Citadel out of this comparison exercise).
One of the first points of fact that pops out in an analysis of how we compare to these seven aspirant institutions is that Winthrop is among the smallest of the top public comprehensive institutions in the South. For the 2012-13 academic year, we enrolled 4,859 undergraduate students, which made us one of the smaller of the top ranked universities, just ahead of Mary Washington, Christopher Newport, and, of course, The Citadel.
The relative size of our institution is not, in itself, a troubling statistic. Quality is more important than size. And, size of the undergraduate student population is strategically determined by a combination of (a) institutional mission and (b) institutional capacity to serve students' learning and living needs.
If growing the student population is consistent with institutional mission, then the question becomes: Do we have the instructional, housing, recreational accommodations and programming resources to grow the student population?
For Winthrop, the answer to the facilities portion of that question is "yes."
Over the last few years, we have added new amenities and instructional facilities that provide us with the capacity to serve at least 1,000 more undergraduate students.
Therefore, I am firmly convinced that now is the time for us to renew our recruitment efforts and grow into the beautiful, state-of-the-art instructional, recreational, and student center facilities that make our campus such a wonderful place to live, learn, work, and play.
Growing enrollments will also help us make up for the loss of state funding we have experienced for years.
Clearly, we need to act quickly to allocate resources and create the structures required to invigorate our student recruitment efforts. But, I am not concerned. To me, the fact that we are sitting at the top of this enrollment plateau is a patch of good news. It is from this plateau that we will launch the next phase of growth and development for Winthrop.
I am quite pleased that Winthrop has the capacity to step-up and fully embrace the national attainment agenda.
But to do so, we must find ways to grant more students access to the highest quality, public education in South Carolina and our region….a Winthrop University education.
Determining how we should grow our enrollment and position ourselves to provide access to the incoming pipeline of college students is far from simple, and it requires multiple intervention strategies.
For long-term impact, we should strengthen our partnership with local school districts to create programs designed to motivate students to complete high school and prepare for success in college. Our partnering initiatives could include mentoring programs or even an Early College program.
These types of strategies have mutual benefit, because they would serve the South Carolina attainment agenda and also grow our traditional student enrollment.
For more immediate results, we will make sure our new Bridge program with York Tech gets off to a great start. And, we should create similar programs with Clinton and other area 2-year colleges.
This, too, would serve the South Carolina attainment agenda and also help grow our transfer student population.
But, there are other, equally strategic enrollment decisions to make, as well.
I am proud to say that we have a very strong reputation for excellence in South Carolina. Currently, 87% of Winthrop students come from our home state. And, they come here knowing that we will deliver on our promises to provide the highest quality educational experience our state offers.
However, the high percentage of South Carolina students also indicates that the Winthrop brand may not be well known in households across the Southeast or the rest of the United States.
This means that we should be able to grow enrollment by renewing our enrollment strategies, casting a wider net in our recruitment efforts, and refreshing our institutional marketing efforts in ways that will raise our university's national profile. We need to stick close to our mission, but also light a fire under the Winthrop brand.
We can and should consider adopting all of these strategies for increasing our traditional undergraduate enrollment.
The Changing Student Archetype
However, to fully leverage our desire and capacity to serve additional students, we need to recognize the changing student archetype. The changing student archetype is the second current rocking higher education today.
At Winthrop, we primarily serve 18- to 22-year-old, full-time residential undergraduate students, just like those who will start moving into our residence halls at the end of this week.
Winthrop's vision to deliver distinctively high-quality, undergraduate education in a residential setting resonates with us, because we believe this type of education is transformative and impacts students' intellectual and personal development in ways that other delivery models simply cannot achieve. We will stay true to this mission.
Yet, the higher education landscape has changed. (Please note that I said, "has changed," not "is changing.")
The traditional student is now in the minority. About 73% of all college students across all higher education sectors in the United States are labeled post-traditional students, which is actually a more precise descriptor than "non-traditional."
But, of more concern to Winthrop is that almost 40 percent of all undergraduate students are over 25, and projections by the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that the proportion will continue to grow. They also predict that half a million veterans will be seeking higher education over the next few years.
In contrast, the average age of Winthrop undergraduates is 21, and the average age of our entering first year students is 18.
As you know, older students tend to work full time and/or have dependents. And, an increasing number serve in the military. They need us to listen to the challenges they face and to adopt convenient, flexible course schedules and delivery methods that accommodate their careers and families. And, they need us to develop services that address their unique needs.
Please know for sure…accommodating the changing student population is not our problem, it is our job.
Winthrop simply must find ways to invite more post-traditional undergraduate students into our community of learners and to serve them well as they pursue their degrees.
Our relatively new Resource Center for Adult Learners strengthens our ability to serve these adult students and includes special support and space for our student veterans, as well. Through the Resource Center for Adult Learners we offer undergraduate adult students the special kinds of academic and personal support they need to be successful.
But, we can and should also find ways to deliver classes in convenient, accelerated formats, on-line, or on the weekend, so that more adult students will see that they are able to fit degree completion into their busy lives.
I, for one, welcome this imperative because I know that these post-traditional undergraduate students will enhance our learning platforms by bringing their diverse perspectives into the educational experience for all of our students.
Of course, many adults return to college for post-bachelor's certificates or master's degrees. These additional credentials can propel graduates up the organizational chart or into a different career path.
Winthrop's record of serving adult students seeking graduate education is quite strong, particularly when compared to other comprehensive universities in South Carolina. Over the last 10 years, enrollment in master's degree programs has declined an average of about 16% across South Carolina's comprehensive universities. But, at Winthrop, graduate student enrollment in master's programs has increased by 12.4%. In fact, we enroll more graduate students than any of the other South Carolina comprehensive universities.
We should leverage our success with graduate programs and determine what additional certificate and degree program offerings would serve our constituents well.
To make Winthrop more accessible to adult learners, we need to adopt an "any time is the right time to learn" attitude at Winthrop. And we need to aggressively pursue the opportunity to serve the growing majority of students seeking access to quality higher education today. In so doing, we will fulfill our mission to provide the highest quality education to students in our service region.
If we successfully add delivery methods that serve post-traditional undergraduate AND graduate students, our enrollments will likely climb, and we will generate resources that we can re-invest to further enhance our programs and facilities.
If we don't adapt in this way, our enrollment could remain flat, and our university could begin to decline.
But, more importantly, if we don't adapt, then adult students, area professionals, and our returning veterans won't have easy access to a Winthrop University education.
As we move in this direction, however, we must also re-dedicate ourselves to staying on the cutting edge of high quality, residential education. The Winthrop University residential experience is transformative for our traditional students, and it should remain our primary mission.
But, we also must recognize that the learning needs of the traditional students are evolving, as well.
We need to prepare now for the next generation of traditional students – the digital native...21st century learners...like the Kolb kids from Beaufort, S.C.
In this photo you see Mabrey, 11; Carter, 9; Clara, 7; and brother Tillman 3, shown on the steps of his namesake, Tillman Hall, this summer. Aren't they precious! Their mom is a Winthrop alumna, and we know that she needs us to start getting ready to educate her children; the oldest – Mabrey – will be ready for Winthrop in just seven years. And, of course, she can't remember a world without iPads. And, Tillman already uses one.
Based on all of this analysis, I firmly believe that we must determine the appropriate mix of traditional, adult, and graduate students that will allow us to grow our enrollments and leverage our capacity.
At the same time, we must urgently consider additional program delivery methods that meet the needs of the 21st century traditional students and the adult students who make up the changing student archetype.
This may mean more on-line courses, on-line programs, more creative course scheduling, adding campus sites, alternative housing, and new services.
Together, we must refresh our thinking about how to make a Winthrop University education accessible to the growing number of students who do not fit the traditional student archetype. This will be one of our most important topics of discussion during the coming months.
Making College More Affordable
Ironically, as the demand for college has gone up nationwide, the cost of college also has increased at a rate much greater than the cost of living or the median family income (which has actually gone down).
The cost of tuition for public 4-year institutions has increased 73% over the last decade, and the cost of tuition at Winthrop mirrors this trend. We all know that we can't keep raising tuition and expect students to be able to afford a college education. The concern for making college "affordable" is the third current rocking higher education today.
When people ask me about the cost of tuition at Winthrop, I quickly turn the conversation to a discussion about the value of a Winthrop University education.
First, I explain that Winthrop graduates are:
- prepared for successful careers,
- engaged in our democratic society,
- responsive to local and global concerns, and
- grounded in values that give meaning to their lives.
And, I conclude by saying that, in short, Winthrop provides the educational quality a student might expect at an elite private university, but at a public university price.
I am very proud of what you all do. In fact, I am in awe of it. But, still, the price of college is up nationwide. And, not surprisingly, the average cumulative student loan debt is up, as well.
The large-debt horror stories you read about are actually rare. And, the largest debt-load seems to plague students at "for-profit" institutions, not students at schools like Winthrop. But, even for students at public universities, the average debt for borrowers has increased about $4,000 over the last 10 years – that's from $19,800 to $23,800.
We all know that the concern about tuition cost is less about actual cost, and more about net costs or "affordability." That is, how much do the students actually pay to attend college?
Winthrop has a strong record of addressing the issue of affordability for our students. We enroll a relatively high percentage of students who receive need-based scholarship or grant aid. Sixty-two percent (62%) of Winthrop students receive need-based aid, which is the highest percentage of any of the top ranked public colleges in our comparison group and nearly 30 percentage points higher than the average for that group.
I am proud to say that we do a relatively good job of helping our students afford to attend Winthrop. We meet 61% of our average student's financial need, which is just slightly below the 63% average of our aspirant group.
Although this is good news, we also must consider that 39% of our students are high-need students, eligible for Pell grants. We have the highest percentage of students receiving Pell Grants in the top ranked comparison group.
So, even though we meet 61% of the average students' need, they still struggle, because they have less ability to cover the remaining 39% of their educational expenses. Moreover, much of the aid our students receive comes in the form of loans, not scholarships or grants.
About 70% of Winthrop students graduate with loan debt.
There are two unhappy, interrelated consequences associated with the inability to provide higher levels of need-based aid to high-need students. The students have a harder time staying in school, and when they leave without a diploma, they are less likely to pay back their student loans.
To fully support the attainment agenda, we must find ways to make college more affordable for our students. We will ask our friends in the legislature to restore state funding based on the impact our programs provide.
And, we will adopt administrative efficiencies and otherwise work to reduce our "expense per student FTE," while at the same time supporting salary increases, instructional and student life spending, and maintaining quality across the board.
But, we also create more bridges to and from community colleges, as we have done with York Tech. We need to better utilize our summer session. And, we need to adopt other program innovations that allow our traditional students to complete their degrees on time.
We also need to allocate the Winthrop University Foundation unrestricted resources to support student scholarship and faculty work with students.
And, of course, we need to galvanize our efforts to cultivate contributions for additional need-based scholarships.
Call me a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I am envisioning an Opportunity Scholarship fund that allows us to meet at least 80% of student need. And, I am already putting new structures in place that will allow our scholarship fundraising efforts to soar.
We deliver one of the highest quality educational experiences in the region. Students deserve the opportunity to have access to what we offer.
Therefore, the question of how to make a Winthrop University education more affordable will be central to our discussions over the coming months.
Fundraising for scholarships is a big part of the solution. But, we also will need to consider programmatic ideas proven to decrease the costs of college by helping students complete their degrees more quickly, or at least, on time.
Recently, I heard an enrollment management expert say that the best way to solve the problem of being affordable for our students, is to recruit a different student population – one with lower average need and higher average "expected family contribution."
But, I can't imagine that for Winthrop. Serving students from all socio-economic backgrounds is not a "problem" for Winthrop – it is a central part of our mission. It is who we are. It is who I believe we should always be. And, although today we are talking about ways we can and should strengthen our efforts, we already serve our students well.
Two of the key measures of student success are retention and graduation rates. Many people believe, as I do, that these two indicators are the most important measures of accountability because they reflect the most important outcome we promise to deliver when we admit a student into our community of learners. Do our students finish? And, do they finish on time?
This concern for accountability is clearly connected to degree completion and the attainment agenda. So, it represents the fourth current rocking higher education today.
Because retention and graduation rate numbers are key indicators of student success and institutional accountability, they comprise 25% of the U.S. News ranking formula. Our strong performance in this area is one of the reasons Winthrop has consistently been ranked in among Top Ten Regional Universities of the South.
And, the good news for Winthrop and especially for our students is that our freshman retention rates are on the rise!
Through a set of deliberate actions designed to serve students well, Winthrop's retention rates have steadily increased, beginning with our Fall 2008 freshman cohort. We have moved the needle on this important measure from 67.3% to 73.2% -- which is an improvement of nearly 6 percentages points in just five years. I think we should take a minute to celebrate that accomplishment.
These steadily increasing retention rates bode well for a similar improvement in our 6-year graduation rates, starting in 2014 – which is 6 years after the retention incline began.
For now, however, our graduation rate sits around 53%. (This current rate is impacted by two cohorts who came through during the recession years; 58% is actually a better representation of our recent performance without the effect of the recession.)
Our graduation rate and, especially our current retention rates, are better than the national average for public institutions. But, I think we should hold ourselves accountable for being far better than the national average, particularly because we are considered a "selective" institution – that is, on average, our students are well prepared academically.
When I reviewed the retention and graduation rates for our aspirant institutions, I discovered that the average freshman retention rate for our aspirant group is nearly 82% (or 9 points above Winthrop). And, the average 6-year graduation rate for our aspirant group is 65.1% (or about 10 percentage points above Winthrop).
If we are to be considered among the best universities of our kind, we will need to produce retention and graduation rates that rival those of the other top ranked public comprehensive universities in the South.
Therefore, another important question for us to answer in the coming months is "what additional initiatives do we need to implement in order to push our retention and graduate rates over the median for our aspirant group?"
Within five years, I would like to see our freshmen retention rate at 82%, which would place us on par with the College of Charleston and at the median for the top publics in our region.
Reaching this goal will require an integrated combination of efforts focused on academic services, financial aid, and student engagement.
But if our retention rates reach the 82% level, then our graduation rates will soon soar, as well.
Let's call this our very own GOAL 2018.
Thank you for indulging me in this celebration of the International Year of the Statistic. I hope you agree with me that statistics are very good friends to universities who want to assess the prevailing currents and get a "navigational fix."
I also hope that when you look at Winthrop University you see what I see:
When I look at Winthrop, I see a high quality university that embraces high impact practices and the rigorous reviews associated with specialized accreditation - because we know this will hold us to externally defined high standards and keep us focused on continual improvement. So, I will continue to support the goal that all programs that can be accredited will be accredited. And, I will continue to fund high-impact practices like first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences (like our common book program), internships, hands-on learning, domestic and international study away programs, and, of course, undergraduate research.
When I look at Winthrop, I see a seamless connection between academic affairs and student life. I see a safe campus environment, integrated student services, and award winning student programming. And, I see a student life staff that captures teaching and learning moments for our students through their residential life experiences and the hundreds of leadership development opportunities that abound through Greek life, student organizations, student media and the Council of Student Leaders. Winthrop students are lucky to have an award-winning student programming board and a campus police department that sets the national standard. My goal is to maintain this level of excellence across all aspects of our student life area.
When I look at Winthrop, I see a high-quality university that has earned national recognition for the civic engagement activities of our students, faculty and staff. I am proud that Winthrop is on the President's Community Service Honor Roll. But I would like to see Winthrop listed on the Honor Roll, with Distinction, and eventually as a Presidential Award recipient. To earn this national recognition, we will need to strengthen our community engagement efforts and empower our faculty, staff, students, and alumni to join in collective action. So, I intend to create structures that will promote our ability to empower our community outreach locally, regionally, and globally – plus include our alumni in the process.
Perhaps we can start locally with a mentoring program that connects Winthrop students and alumni with promising, local high school students in ways that impact high school graduation rates and get area youth ready for college. Perhaps we can expand our history students' work with the Winthrop School in Nicaragua. Perhaps we can send more student- athletes to run camps in Haiti.
Through this type of work together, we can help students understand that to be a person of success, they need to first be a person of value. And, we can solidify lasting connections among members of what I call Winthrop's entire Blue Line.
When I look at Winthrop, I see an outstanding athletic program that develops scholar athletes who are service oriented. Winthrop Eagles win, they give to others, and they graduate! In fact, they graduate at higher rates than the larger student population. Our athletic program is a model NCAA Division I program that molds leaders, generates excitement on our campus, helps grow our student enrollment, and has the potential to create national visibility for our program and our University.
I have been asked many times if I believe Winthrop should add football to our athletic program mix. And, I believe we should answer that question as soon as we can. I know people worry about the question "how much would it cost to add football?" But, to me, the most important questions are (1) "how would a football program (including a marching band) add to Winthrop enrollment and the overall student life experience?" and (2) "Could we add football and still address the expectations of Title IX?" If we decide, as a community, that football is right for Winthrop, then it would be my job to raise the money to launch the program.
When I look at Winthrop, I see a high-quality university that has adopted a set of high impact Global Learning Initiatives designed to inspire our students to be responsive to global concerns and to prepare our students for professional success in a global environment. Despite the high impact of these classroom initiatives, an actual study abroad experience deepens students' commitment to reaching across cultures to promote understanding and progress. Currently, about 17% of Winthrop students have some type of study abroad experience before they graduate. This is an impressive statistic. But, I believe that we can and should grow that number to 30% over the next five years. Therefore, as part of our global initiatives, I would like to focus efforts on creating a broader menu of affordable study abroad options and a scholarship fund specially focused on supporting students who study abroad. This, too, will be added to our list of discussion topics.
When I look at Winthrop, I see a "great place to work." Winthrop employs almost 1,300 people, full- and part-time combined. About 20% of us are Winthrop University alumni. And, many of you have served Winthrop for most of your working life. Thank you for generously welcoming Larry, Cocoa and me to Winthrop. During these past few months of transition, we were moved by the countless times your words of welcome included reference to "the Winthrop family."
In honor of your on-going dedication to the Winthrop mission, I plan to do all I can to ensure that Winthrop provides you strong workplace support, that you are consulted on issues that tap your knowledge and expertise, that you have input into decisions that affect you, and that you know for sure how much your contributions are appreciated.
About six years ago, The Chronicle of Higher Education launched a survey initiative called "Great Colleges to Work For," which is based on "best places to work programs" that have been used in more than 4,000 organizations. The Chronicle invited all accredited institutions in the U.S. with an enrollment of at least 500 to participate and 300 institutions joined the program this year.
The survey, which is administered by a third party, assesses employee perceptions in 12 categories, including Collaborative Governance, Compensation and Benefits, Confidence in Senior Leadership, Job Satisfaction, Diversity, Respect and Appreciation, Teaching Environment, and Work-Life Balance. Then, institutions use the survey results to make needed improvements in each of the 12 categories.
I would like us to use the "Best Colleges to Work For" survey this year to obtain your perceptions of Winthrop's working environment. If you are willing to participate, I promise I will report the results of the survey back to you and then invite you to help me use the information to refresh and strengthen our working culture.
In the meantime, you can count on seeing early initiatives focused on making sure that faculty, students, and staff have a voice in the governing process. And, I will consult with you to find meaningful and sincere ways to show you how much I celebrate and appreciate all you do to advance Winthrop's mission.
The next six months are critical to Winthrop's future. Our university has reached a "strategic inflection point" in its life-cycle that cries out for renewal. We simply must take the time to find Winthrop's "true North."
We must refresh our thinking, renew our strategies, and put Winthrop on the rise!
About mid-September, we will begin convening a series of opportunities for all of you to join me in critical conversations around all of the issues I have addressed this morning. I need you to accept the invitation when it comes to you.
- maintain quality and high impact practices,
- grow our enrollment,
- improve retention,
- make our degrees more affordable,
- adapt to the changing student archetype,
- invigorate our study abroad and community engagement programs,
- revitalize our fundraising practices,
- invest in our faculty and staff,
- connect with our alumni,
- and celebrate our success.
In so doing, we will light a fire under the Winthrop brand.
I am very proud to be the President of this fine institution and I believe "the best is yet to come" for Winthrop University.
Let us fly like Eagles.
Winthrop ever stand.