As Winthrop University leaders look for ways to boost undergraduate enrollment, proponents say several fast-growing master’s programs are giving students excellent “return on investment.”
The university has 26 graduate degree programs ranging from biology to art and design, from business administration to human nutrition. Those degree options and information on financial aid and admissions will be highlighted today during a free graduate school open house.
One of the school’s most popular graduate degree programs – a master’s in social work, or MSW – has seen rapid growth over the past five years. Enrollment is up by 50 percent, and the number of MSW degrees awarded has grown by nearly 120 percent.
Nearly half of the current 110 MSW students are from outside South Carolina.
Information provided by Winthrop shows enrollment in its graduate school, which includes the master’s in social work, has increased steadily over the past few years – a much different growth trend from the university’s undergraduate population.
To address the undergraduate “enrollment plateau,” Winthrop President Jayne Marie Comstock has said she’s looking to “refresh” the university’s marketing strategies and strengthen partnerships with area schools and two-year colleges.
Graduate School Dean Jack DeRochi is overseeing the master’s programs under new presidential leadership and looking for ways to improve already-healthy programs.
The advanced degree in social work is a good example of why Winthrop can be proud of what it offers students, DeRochi said. The department “could have rested on its laurels” while enjoying recent growth, he said, but its leadership continues to “constantly innovate.”
For example, Winthrop allows its MSW students to enroll in a weekend class program, instead of attending classes in the traditional full-time way. The weekend offering is popular with students who work full-time or have children.
Other Winthrop master’s programs also offer weekend, part-time or online learning options to cater to older students or those with life responsibilities somewhat different than the university’s typical student.
Currently, the graduate school is vetting several academic certificate programs, DeRochi said, which would add another option for people looking to further their education. Certificate programs usually require fewer class hours for students to finish and cost less.
Certificate programs under consideration include strategic communication, arts education and educational technology. Winthrop’s social work department recently partnered with the school’s college of business to form a new graduate-level program – a certificate in management.
The 12-hour certificate in management can be a nice addition to an MSW degree, said Deana Morrow, department chairwoman and a social work professor. A student also could earn the certificate alone and apply the completed hours toward a master’s degree in business administration.
The new management certificate combines social work studies with basic business principles, such as accounting. It expands on leadership and other business-related skills already taught in Winthrop’s social work program.
For those already in the workforce, Morrow said, earning a certificate from Winthrop is one way to achieve “nimble re-tooling” for a career.
All changes and improvements in any graduate school program, DeRochi said, aim to support Winthrop’s goal of providing students with a high-quality education. It’s important, he said, for Winthrop to give all of its students support after graduation.
“It’s not, ‘Good luck to you; we hope it works out well,’ ” DeRochi said.
“Return on investment” is particularly crucial for graduate students, he said, and it’s not judged merely by “dollars and cents.” An “authentic” experience benefits graduates students, and on-the-job training should be part of the package.
Winthrop’s MSW program includes such training through a mandatory field placement or internship component. Over the past year, the university’s MSW students have clocked nearly 50,000 hours of internship service – at no cost to many local social service agencies, such as Keystone Substance Abuse Services in Rock Hill.
In total, the economic impact of one year of internship placements is close to $1 million – measured by how much money the host agency would have paid entry-level employees. Winthrop reports a 95 percent job-placement rate for its MSW students, partly because of job-readiness provided by internships.
DeRochi and others say they’re proud of Winthrop’s graduate school popularity and Comstock’s commitment to it in her first year as Winthrop’s president.
Her arrival, DeRochi said, was “perfect timing” to help the graduate school grow.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068