Today is my first day of service as the 10th President of Winthrop University.

I am overwhelmed with pride and humility to have the honor of leading this remarkable institution.

The road to Winthrop has been a path with heart for me, as I long ago dedicated myself to what I believe matters most – the opportunity for all U.S. citizens, regardless of their socio-economic class, to have access to quality higher education.  To me, this is the key civil rights issue of our time.

I started writing about the importance of access to quality higher education about two years ago.   Despite national initiatives aimed at increasing from 40% to 60+% the percentage of adults in our country with completed college degrees and certificates, our 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.

In its recently released, fourth-annual report on progress toward the college attainment goal, the Lumina Foundation established the “higher education attainment rate” as the metric for measuring the percentage of the nation’s adult, working-age population holding a two-or-four-year college degree.

This year the report 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.

By 2018 – in just five years – 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 allies and we will broaden our country’s earning-power divide.  That is, the poor will get poorer and the middle class will fail to thrive.

My new home state of 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%.   All the while, state funding for higher education has never rebounded from recent recession-era cuts and continues to be on the chopping block.

These “attainment” percentages – which are well below the national average – cry out for strong initiatives to address the remaining three A’s of contemporary higher education:  Access, Affordability, and Accountability (which to me, translates as “cost-effective, high quality” degree programs).

As a new president at a state university in South Carolina, these low attainment rates are unacceptable to me.   Therefore, one of my primary objectives is to turn these numbers around.    By partnering with our local technical/community colleges and local school districts, enhancing existing campus initiatives, and embracing effective innovations for program delivery and academic services for residential and working adult students, Winthrop will improve its own institutional completion rate, reach out to serve more students in our state, and be a beacon that attracts others to this goal as well.

Rest assured, that as we step-up our efforts to increase educational attainment, we will cling tightly to our  commitment to quality and hold ourselves accountable for producing graduates that 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.

They call us the Winthrop Eagles.   Watch us soar!

Jamie Comstock Williamson

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11 Responses to Job One on Day One: Increase Degree Attainment

  1. Welcome to Winthrop from the staff of the Winthrop Small Business Development Center in Thurmond! Great message! We hope you don’t mind, but we’ve shared your wish to increase degree attainment by linking to your blog from our Facebook page. Wishing you all the best as you begin your days as a Winthrop Eagle!

    Larry Stevens, Winthrop SBDC Region Director
    Carol Daly, Business Consultant and Administrative Assistant
    Forrest Norman, Business Consultant

    • comstockj says:

      Thanks so much for your warm welcome to Winthrop. I had a great first day!.
      I am pleased that you have linked this post to your Facebook page and that you share the goal to increase degree attainment.

  2. Sylvia Szymanski says:

    Dr. Comstock,

    I am proud to call you our new president and I believe your goals to be noble. When I first moved here (orig. from Chicago), I was a city employee in a nearby town. I was disheartened to find adults who could not read as they filled out applications for permits, etc., so I quickly volunteered at the York County Literacy Association. I’m happy to call Winthrop home where I am also pursuing my Master’s degree. Higher education was not a high priority to my Mexican parents, so I treasure the gift of the employee educational assistance program. I am not alone in welcoming you with open arms and I look forward to your leadership.

    • comstockj says:

      I am honored to be the 10th president of Winthrop and grateful for your moral support. I look forward to our shared Winthrop experiences.

  3. Dr. Comstock,
    I wish you luck on your endeavor as the new Winthrop President. I know you will face many challenges in your tenure. I would like to say that I would not be where I am today if it was not for my undergraduate education at Winthrop. The biology and chemistry departments have a high caliper program that made for an easy transition into my pharmacy school education. Though it has been a long road, I am now a practicing clinical pharmacist in cardiology critical care. I wear my Winthrop pride daily alongside my ID badge. Once an Eagle, always an Eagle!

    I wish you the best on your first goal as President with increasing degree attainment as I know you can accomplish this.

  4. Nancy Donnelly says:

    Welcome to Winthrop University! I am an extremely proud alumni of Winthrop University, and pleased to have you as our new president. I look forward to hearing more about your initiatives as well as working together to prepare our graduates for the rigors and demands of today’s work force.

    Again, Welcome!

    Nancy Donnelly, President, Winthrop University Alumni Association

  5. Welcome to Winthrop! The staff of the Winthrop TRiO Student Support Services program would like to extend a warm welcome to campus. We in TRiO share your passion and dedication to increasing college opportunity and completion for students who traditionally have fewer opportunities. All of us look forward to working with you and the rest of the Winthrop community to reach these goals!

    Rose Gray, TRiO Program Director
    Janell Stevens, Sr. Academic Counselor
    Alicia Huff, Academic Counselor
    Monica Mitrovich, Program Assistant

  6. Debbi Fetner says:

    Dr. Comstock,
    As a member of the Winthrop College Class of 1972, I welcome you and am proud to have you preside over our alma mater. I look forward to meeting you on my next visit to Rock Hill.

    Best regards,
    Debbi Fetner

  7. Tom Webb says:

    Welcome to Rock Hill and WU. Winthrop is a wonderful institution of learning, not only in the class room but through student involvement.

    Having spent twenty-seven years at WU, I would often advise students “not to let their studies interfere with their education”, but was quick to remind them “don’t let your education interfere with your studies”. Having a sister who graduated from the University of Richmond (cum laude) while I acquired an unheralded degree from USC (thanke lorde), I can say without quilt or contradiction that we both made significant contributions to society and family – and continue to do so. I think that the ultimate goal of ‘making a difference’ can be acquired many ways. I’ve seen it happen so many different ways during my tenure. Winthrop was a launching pad for so many outstanding stories.

    Wishing much luck and success at Winthrop University

    Tom Webb
    1975-2002 (retired)

  8. Enjoyed your reading your comments and plan to follow your success. I am a close friend and colleague of Frank Casagrande. I also noticed our paths have crossed,e.g. I teach at St. Louis University and lived in Lawrence, KS, thus have been on Baker Unversity campus several times.

    I hope our paths can cross again,


  9. As a Winthrop graduate (77, 79) and a teacher of CIS at a technical college in Georgia it is important we get people with the post secondary training but we must realize not all should or need to be prepared for office jobs. Training must also be there for them to be masons, carpentry, plumbing, etc. which all do require a good literacy and some specialized training so not just degrees but diplomas and certificates in vocational fields as we need them too. Vocation is a good term as a calling for a job, teaching about computers is my vocation, and we need to get people to that point.

    I am glad Winthrop will be working with the high schools and technical colleges under your leadership to provide a more seamless education system so all people can reach the level they need. Having taught in technical colleges (and part time at traditional colleges and universities) for many years I know where money is a major issue for many potential students and they need to be careful on loans.

    Tom Webb was excellent in us learning that education is more than book knowledge and that part of it is learning to work with your fellow humans. I have had involvement in student services for many years from starting serving on DSU boards under his guidance at Winthrop. I tell my students regularly they need to do more than just take classes and study. There is much more to learn at a college (and still is both for me, class knowledge to learn and learning leadership and people skills).
    I support colleges in academics and athletics.
    I look forward to meeting you.

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