All four finalists to be Winthrop University’s next president say they’re ready to meet financial challenges with new ideas as lawmakers continue to cut back state funding for higher education.
One of the four candidates will succeed Anthony DiGiorgio when he retires in June after 24 years at Winthrop.
DiGiorgio is the longest-serving college president in South Carolina – noted for heralding in a time of growth in Winthrop’s history by completing nearly $60 million in capital projects over recent years.
In choosing its next leader, Winthrop can’t replace DiGiorgio’s longevity and leadership, Board of Trustees member Bob Thompson said.
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“You don’t try to,” he said. “You try to build on what has been built.”
The search committee sifted through more than 100 applications to find finalists for Winthrop’s top seat.
Those being considered:
• Jeff Braden, a college dean who has served as a sign-language interpreter during a speech by President Barack Obama.
• Elizabeth Dale, a university vice president who raised dollars in record-breaking fashion for her institution last year.
• Ulysses Hammond, who made history as the first black person to run a federal appellate and general jurisdiction court before he worked in higher education.
• Jayne Marie Comstock, a communications professor now working with one of the nation’s most visible higher education groups.
Braden: Tap into alumni for donations
Braden, who’s scheduled to arrive at Winthrop on Sunday for a three-day visit, says Winthrop, like all public universities across the country, is facing a financial challenge because of reduced state support.
“As state support diminishes, we must look to other sources of support to sustain higher education,” said Braden, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at N.C. State University. “Some of the American not-for-profit universities are among the finest in the world.
“Increasingly, state-supported universities will have to follow their example to accommodate diminished state funding.”
One way to answer the budgetary problem, he said, is to strengthen the university’s alumni relations to encourage former students to donate money.
“I spend a lot of time with alumni and friends of our college whose generosity makes it possible for us to provide an education – and not once have I ever heard any one of them ask to be paid back,” Braden said.
“What they ask of our students is that they pay it forward.”
Restructuring functions to serve the college more efficiently, he said, is also a way to alleviate the effects of state cutbacks.
“In such a climate, convincing voters and elected representatives to invest in higher education can be a challenge,” Braden said, “especially within a state with a low proportion of people holding college degrees.”
Hammond: ‘Widen the donor prospect net’
Hammond echoed Braden’s description of declining state financial support for public universities.
Winthrop’s next president, he said, will need “collaborative” relationships with lawmakers and must work to secure more donations from friends of the school.
“The institution will need to advance its current trajectory,” he said.
“The next president will have to widen the donor prospect net, not only to those who know the Winthrop success story, but to those who may not yet be familiar with Winthrop’s achievements, vision and aspirations.”
In his role as vice president for administration at Connecticut College, Hammond oversees a $120 million budget, in addition to managing community affairs, facilities planning, campus safety and other departments.
Comstock: Other ways to boost tuition
To reverse the trend in dwindling state dollars, Comstock said she would “invigorate” Winthrop’s connections with South Carolina’s political leaders.
“I have experience navigating the political arena and am confident that I could lead the effort to make Winthrop more visible in Columbia and Washington,” said Comstock, director of the Executive Leadership Group of the American Council on Education, which advocates on behalf of university presidents in Washington, D.C.
Winthrop’s current capital campaign recently reached $40 million, which Comstock called a good sign of “deep and abiding support among donors.”
Tuition is a major part of Winthrop’s revenue, but Comstock said affordability is “a must.”
More money could come from tuition, she said, by considering a “modest” enrollment increase and “alternative delivery models” for some students. Improved student retention and graduation rates, Comstock said, also would help Winthrop’s bottom line.
Dale: Fundraising ‘a team sport’
Dale’s response to financial woes in higher education would be to “create a culture of philanthropy” for Winthrop. She has spent a decade working in institutional advancement at both a private and a public university.
Her efforts as vice president of advancement for Drexel University, Dale said, more than doubled the usual amount of money coming in through fundraising.
“I believe that seeking philanthropic support is a team sport,” she said.
If chosen as Winthrop’s president, Dale said, she’d rally the Board of Trustees, the university’s nonprofit foundation, academic faculty and staff, students, friends and alumni around investing in the school’s future.
Winthrop will host three of the presidential finalists on the heels of state budget hearings in Columbia, where lawmakers will hear from every public university receiving taxpayer dollars.
Statewide, financial support for four-year colleges is on the decline, with Winthrop receiving about half as much state money last year than it did in years before the recent recession began.