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!