Winthrop buys its first billboards, hopes to boost enrollment

With an eye on increasing its student enrollment by 1,000 over the next five years, Winthrop University has unveiled a fall advertising campaign across South Carolina.

The school rolled out 13 billboards, new radio ads and special Facebook paid-messages last week in hopes of increasing the number of freshman applications it will receive next year. This type of advertising effort is new for the university, officials said.

Winthrop wants the advertising to create better awareness among potential students, said university spokesman Jeff Perez. “We know that Winthrop is a great place to go to college, and we want as many students as possible to know that,” he said.

The school spent about $40,000 on the new billboards which will stay up for about one month. The billboards were strategically placed across the state, Perez said, in places such as Columbia, Charleston and Greenville.

The closest Winthrop billboard to the Rock Hill campus is about 20 miles away, located along northbound Interstate 77, near Exit 1 for Interstate 485 in Charlotte.

This is the time of year many high school seniors will begin thinking about where they want to apply for college, Perez said. And, billboards “help put the university at the top of people’s minds.”

Many other South Carolina colleges also use billboards to promote their academic programs and athletics.

Winthrop’s signs all feature the tagline “Winthrop Stands For Opportunity” and various images of students on campus. The school used on-campus student focus groups to decide on the message and which photos to use.

The “Winthrop Stands” slogan isn’t replacing Winthrop’s “Live. Learn. Lead.” motto or any other university branding, Perez said. The focus groups liked “Winthrop Stands,” he said, because it conveys the pride students have in their university and the campus’ diversity.

Some of the images on the new billboards include a student and a professor in a science lab, a Winthrop graduate wearing a cap and gown, and a women’s lacrosse player.

Perez says the school thinks the billboards will boost Winthrop’s name recognition among South Carolina students and could increase alumni engagement and giving. “This is an opportunity to see Winthrop out there,” he said.

If the fall campaign is successful, the ads could help Winthrop pull in more students to reach its goal of enrolling nearly 7,000 by 2019. Over the past decade, the school’s student population has mostly been flat.

During the campaign, the university plans to track its website traffic to see what impact the billboards and other ads have. Winthrop also will monitor the number of applications it receives for the 2015 fall semester.

This year, the number of high school seniors who applied to Winthrop was up by about 6 percent – or 261 applications – compared to 2013. Although more applications came in, the university enrolled this fall fewer freshmen than it did in 2013.

Last year, Winthrop’s freshman enrollment was 1,096. This year, it enrolled 1,019 first-time students. Transfer student enrollment was also slightly down this year.

Winthrop saw an increase in first-time graduate student enrollment and out-of-state student enrollment.

School officials say they have not set a specific goal for the promotional campaign but Winthrop is optimistic the fall ads will attract more students to apply for next year.