Mahony: Winthrop provides 'stellar student experience' in Rock Hill
City and Winthrop University leaders say they were summarily pleased by school president Dan Mahony’s inaugural “State of the University” speech last week, where he laid out a 10-year plan that promised to strive for increased diversity, strong fundraising goals and improved technology.
Mahony, entering his second year as the school’s leader, said he felt Winthrop would soon become a “national model” by achieving the 2025 vision, which included raising the student enrollment by 1,500, investing in upgrades where necessary and creating a new budget model.
Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun said any enrollment increase meant good things for the area.
“They’re no different than anyone else,” said Vehaun. “They buy gas, they shop in retail stores, go to restaurants, all positive things from an economic standpoint.”
Many of those students could find housing, stores and fun in the long-term in the University Center/Knowledge Park area in downtown Rock Hill. City officials recently laid out plans to build a $25 million indoor sports complex near the area that proponents say would have a significant economic impact.
University Center is slated to feature retail space, apartments, student dorms, office space and a hotel.
Vehaun said Winthrop was an important economic driver to the city, and the university’s involvement in the project was “incredibly good.”
Among Mahony’s goals laid out earlier this week, he said Winthrop will seek to nearly double the school’s endowment assets by 2025 - from $43.1 million to $80 million in a decade. The school also hopes to nearly double its alumni giving rate from 8.6 percent to 15 percent.
Mahony said it was important to create a new budget model for the university.
J.P. McKee, the school’s vice president for finance and business, said much of the raised funds will likely be funneled towards hiring new faculty, campus building repairs and integrating more online courses.
Winthrop is seeking to provide roof repairs for both Withers Building and Thurmond Building, according to the school’s vice president for finance and business J.P. McKee
Mahony said he hoped to outfit 50-60 classrooms with upgraded technology by 2025. McKee said it is important to match up the right budget with the school’s most pressing needs.
The school plans to spend between $15 million to $22 million annually on facilities, according to the plan. That’s up from $11.1 million in 2016.
“It’s a basic economic question of allocating resources to meet unlimited wants and needs,” said McKee. “It will be a daunting task, regardless of the methodology we adopt.”
Mahony said much of his 2025 plan was crafted from a variety of discussions dating back to his first months on campus, where he met with students, staff and faculty. He said it was important to create data-driven goals that would lead to physical improvements.
“People tend to give back more when they have a good idea of where their money is going and what it will be doing,” he said.
Such transparency was welcomed by the students, according to Council of Student leaders chair and student body president Beth West.
West says Mahony and his wife Laura make the effort to hear the concerns and thoughts of Winthrop students, whether it be in the cafeteria or around the campus. Students say they’re chiefly concerned with the often-rising cost of tuition, West says, but they feel more assured by the 10-year plan regarding the direction of the university.
“There was a lot of praise for him,” said West. “We’re excited for the year to come. We’re happy to know the plan and we’re satisfied with what they’ve chosen.”
West says students were struck by Mahony’s commitment to attracting and retaining a diverse staff and student body.
The president laid out concepts to increase the percentage of minority faculty/managerial staff from 14.4 percent to a possible 20 percent by 2025. He also hopes to see the percentage of African-American, Latino-American and Native-American students rise from 39 percent to 45 percent over the next decade.
Winthrop has 36 percent of its student body as U.S. minorities.
Like Mahony, West said the school could do better to increase the diversity of staff hiring pools in order to secure the best candidate.
“Winthrop is a diverse campus, but are we the most inclusive? I don’t know,” said West. “I was surprised at how open he was talking about diversity, so I think this is a step in the right direction.”