Have you ever noticed that the “access agenda” and the “quality agenda” are usually segregated into separate colleges or universities?

There are institutions that promote “access” by allowing open admission and providing need-based financial aid; but, these institutions rarely find their way to the top of the quality rankings.  There are institutions that strengthen “quality” through selective admissions and heavy investments in elite faculty, facilities, and programs; but, these institutions rarely serve a substantial percentage of minority or low income students.

Today – the day we show reverence to a man who taught our country so much about social justice – it seems fitting to declare that Winthrop University is redefining public higher education by integrating access and quality in a single institution.linked cropped

We dare other comprehensive universities to rise to the challenge as well, because we believe that we rise by lifting others and that broadening access to quality higher education is one of the key civil rights issues of our time.

US News and World Report ranks Winthrop among the Top Eight public universities in the South.  We are bolstered by this external validation of quality and proud to be in included among other top public regional universities like the Citadel, James Madison, Appalachian State, the College of Charleston, and the University of Mary Washington.

Winthrop can be distinguished from this group, however, because 39% of Winthrop’s students come from families with modest means ($50,000 or less) and are eligible for Pell Grants.  This is 14% higher than the average percentage of Pell-eligible students  for the top ranked public comprehensives in the South and 16% percent more Pell-eligible students than the College of Charleston, a school with a similar mission in our home state.

Winthrop can also be distinguished from the Top Eight public regional institutions in the South because 33% of our undergraduates are domestic minority students.   This is 18% higher than the average minority student population for the Top Eight public universities in the South and 18% higher than the minority student population at the College of Charleston.

These data show that a University can earn very high rankings for delivering quality, while also promoting access to deserving students across the racial and socio-economic spectrum.

We have simply redefined quality higher education at Winthrop.  We believe that academic excellence is enhanced by an inclusive, rather than exclusive, approach to admission and access because we believe that the most impactful educational experience requires exposure to diverse views and the opportunity to live and learn alongside diverse others.

Access and quality are not mutually exclusive – never have been.  Instead, institutions can actually improve quality by increasing access.   But, of course, this only works if institutions hold themselves accountable for student success across the spectrum, as well.

And, at Winthrop we do that, too.  In 2013, Washington Monthly’s new “Best Bang for Your Buck” rating system ranked  Winthrop #37 among all regional comprehensive institutions in America that do the best job of helping non-wealthy students attain high quality, marketable degrees at affordable prices.   No other public institution in South Carolina ranked higher.

Today, at Winthrop we stand firm in our commitment to redefine quality, public higher education.   We have established retention and graduation rate goals that will shoot us to the top of any ranking that measures accountability for student success.  And, we’ll do this while continuing to conceptualize “inclusion” as an inherent part of excellence in higher education.

In so doing, we will help increase the higher education attainment rate for our state and the nation.  We will transform the lives of others and change the trajectory of families forever.

And, our work will remain inspired by the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. , who said,

“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.  And, whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.  And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”


Jamie Comstock Williamson

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One Response to Integrating Access and Quality in a Single Institution Redefines Excellence in Public Higher Education

  1. Mark Hali says:

    As an alumnus I am proud of the bold posture of our beloved Winthrop University and its commitment to perpetuating strong moral values as suggested through the words of appointed leadership. I am happy to virtually meet our new president – Dr. Jamie Comstock Ph.D. through this blog. To me, her discussions reveal academic maturity but moreover, they spotlight the fact that she is socially aware and sophisticated; bold enough to stand passionately by the fact that Access and Quality are indeed NOT mutually exclusive. I am overcome with pride.

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