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08/13/2013

President Jayne Marie Comstock Charts Winthrop’s Future

Quick Facts

 In her 44th day on the job, President Comstock said a “navigational fix” will help the Winthrop community respond to her charge to “refresh, renew and rise.”
 Optimistic about the university’s future, she said Winthrop has the capacity to grow its enrollment by 1,000 students, achieve an 82 percent freshman retention rate over five years, and address issues of attainment, access, affordability and accountability.

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President Comstock
ROCK HILL, S.C. – In an Aug. 13 address to faculty and staff members, President Jayne Marie (Jamie) Comstock challenged the Winthrop community as it enters its 128th year.

Optimistic about the university’s future, she said Winthrop has the capacity to grow its enrollment by 1,000 students, achieve an 82 percent freshman retention rate over five years, and address issues of attainment, access, affordability and accountability.

In her 44th day on the job, Comstock said a “navigational fix” will help the Winthrop community respond to her charge to “refresh, renew and rise.” She expects to see the university invigorate its programs, revitalize its practices and stoke the fire under its brand.

Among the goals for Winthrop:

• maintain quality and high-impact practices,
• grow enrollment and improve retention,
• make degrees more affordable,
• adapt to the changing student archetype,
• invigorate study abroad and community engagement programs,
• revitalize fundraising practices,
• invest in faculty and staff,
• connect with alumni, and
• celebrate successes.

Questions surrounding these goals will guide the campus community’s upcoming critical conversations. In the spring – during Inauguration Week – Comstock will set a course of renewal for Winthrop based on these discussions.

Comstock’s focus on statistics began with the national call to reach 60 percent degree attainment by 2025. “Achieving this goal requires a backbone of key leaders coordinating a nationwide set of initiatives aimed at increasing from 40 percent to 60 percent the percentage of adults in our country with completed college degrees and certificates,” Comstock said. “As you know, I have answered the call to make degree attainment a high priority at Winthrop.”

To understand why this is important, Comstock said by 2018 – in just five years – about 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some level of postsecondary education. The relatively low degree attainment of young adults is troubling, she said.

“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,” Comstock said. “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.”

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 percent.

The good news is that more students are going to college. Yet Winthrop’s undergraduate enrollment has been relatively flat in the last decade, and the university has room to serve at least 1,000 more undergraduate students, the president said.

Growing enrollments, she said, will help the university make up for the loss of state funding over the years.

To accomplish this, she suggested:

Strengthening partnerships with local school districts to create programs designed to motivate students to complete high school, including mentoring programs or even an Early College program.

Ensuring that the new Bridge program with York Technical College gets off to a strong start and to create similar programs with Clinton Junior College and other area two-year colleges.

Renewing enrollment strategies, casting a wider net in recruitment efforts, and refreshing institutional marketing efforts in ways that will raise Winthrop’s national profile.

Accommodating older, “post-traditional” students and veterans by finding ways to deliver classes in convenient, accelerated formats, on-line, or on the weekend, and adopting an “any time is the right time to learn” attitude.

Comstock also wants to see Winthrop become more affordable for students. She noted that 39 percent of Winthrop students are high-need students, eligible for Pell grants. “We have the highest percentage of students receiving Pell Grants,” she said, compared to aspirant peer institutions in the South.

“So, even though we meet 61 percent of the average students’ need, they still struggle, because they have less ability to cover the remaining 39 percent of their educational expenses. Moreover, much of the aid our student’s receive comes in the form of loans, not scholarships or grants.”

She encouraged allocating the Winthrop University Foundation unrestricted resources to support student scholarship and faculty work with students. Plus, she suggested galvanizing efforts to cultivate contributions for additional need-based scholarships, with the goal of meeting at least 80 percent of student need in the future.

As for retention, she said Winthrop should be proud that its rates have steadily increased, beginning with the fall 2008 freshman cohort. “We have moved the needle on this important measure from 67.3 percent to 73.2 percent -- which is an improvement of nearly 6 percentage points in just five years,” she said.

Within five years, she would like to see the freshmen retention rate at 82 percent.

In other news, Comstock:

• Called this year a celebration of the “International Year of the Statistic” because it will be vitally important to measure success.

• Pledged to continue to support the goal that all programs that can be accredited will be accredited and to fund high-impact practices like first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences, internships, hands-on learning, domestic and international study away programs, and undergraduate research.

• Promised to address football “as soon as we can,” stressing determination of the impact on enrollment and student life, plus expectations of Title IX.

• Encouraged the growth of study abroad from 17 percent to 30 percent over the next five years by focusing efforts on creating a broader menu of affordable study away options and ways to fund them.

Read Comstock’s opening address in its entirety online.

For more information, contact Judy Longshaw, news and media services manager, at 803/323-2404 or by e-mail at longshawj@winthrop.edu.

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