Winthrop University leaders have their eyes on growth. And they’re seeing it happen.
Winthrop received a record number of applications for the fall. So Winthrop President Dan Mahony says he expects the school will increase the number of students enrolled.
“It’s a really good sign and an indication that some of the things we’re doing to recruit students are working well,” he said.
The growth is not unplanned. Increasing enrollment is one area cited in Mahony’s strategic plan, which was launched in 2016 and sets goals through 2025.
Under Mahony, Winthrop has targeted recruitment efforts, launched a new logo and message for perspective students and created programs designed to entice non-traditional students.
The number of applications for the fall 2019 freshman class, 5,341 as of Jan. 1, is the highest the school has on record, said Eduardo Prieto, vice president for access and enrollment management.
That number surpasses the last high of 5,328 in fall 2006. Mahony said he expects applications will continue to come in.
Winthrop is a state school, with most students coming from South Carolina, Mahony said.
Winthrop also is crucial to bringing jobs to the area and providing talent to fill them, said Liam Kyle, spokesman for the City of Rock Hill’s economic and urban development.
Focus on recruitment
College enrollment has been declining overall in the U.S. over the last five years, Prieto said.
Winthrop had 5,813 students enrolled in the fall of 2018, down from 6,073 students in the fall of 2017, according to enrollment data provided by Prieto. In the fall of 2016, Winthrop had 6,109 students enrolled.
Under Mahony, who came to Winthrop in 2015, the university has shifted recruitment efforts to areas that are more likely to bring growth, Prieto said.
“That growth will largely come from doing new things like recruiting more non-traditional students, both graduate and undergraduate, as that is the fastest growing segment of the college market,” Prieto said in a prepared statement.
Mahony said recruitment is focused on areas of South Carolina and surrounding states that have proved successful.
While Winthrop sees growth in out-of-state enrollment and in its graduate online programs, South Carolina remains the university’s biggest area for recruitment, Mahony said. He said many students come from Rock Hill and York County, Charleston, Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg.
Winthrop is starting to see interest from students across the state line, Mahony said.
“When I first came here we got almost nobody from Charlotte. Now we are starting to see a decent number of students from Charlotte,” he said.
Winthrop recruiters are also reaching out to middle schools and high schools.
“We’re starting to build that interest in Winthrop even from a younger age,” Mahony said.
In 2018, Winthrop launched a new logo and branding.
The new look also came with a clearer message focused on the Winthrop experience and highlighting opportunities such as undergraduate research, relationships between students and staff and the school’s track record of placing students in jobs and graduate school, Mahony said.
“We’re both focused on what you have here and what you will have afterwards,” he said. “What the applications to me indicate is there is increasing interest in Winthrop. People see the university in ... an increasingly positive way.”
Effects of growth
Rock Hill city and Winthrop officials say the growth is positive -- for the community and the school. But some are concerned about parking and on-campus housing.
Mahony said the goal is to soon reach 7,000-7,500 students total, up from the average 6,000 seen in the past five years. He said the growth will be across the university’s grade levels and programs, including online.
Mahony said the university won’t know exactly how many more students will be enrolled until later this year. If Winthrop were to reach the higher end of its enrollment goal, the university is still not looking at huge changes, he said.
“We don’t think we will have a need for a dramatic increase in, say, residence halls. The growth there will be only one piece of that growth,” Mahony said. “For (us to need more housing), we would have to go up like 1,200 to 1,300 students ... that’s probably not likely.”
Winthrop enrolled about 1,000 new freshmen each fall from 2014 to 2018, including full-time and part-time students, according to enrollment data. For the fall of 2018, the number of new freshmen enrolled decreased to 991 from 1,050 in the fall of 2017.
Forty-eight percent of the undergraduate students live on campus. As of fall 2018, 4,887 undergraduate students, part-time and full-time, attended Winthrop, according to enrollment data. On-campus housing can serve up to 2,519 students, said Judy Longshaw, Winthrop spokesperson.
Rachael Estes, 41, who graduated from Winthrop in 2016 and is working on her master’s at the university, said she is concerned with already-tight, on-campus, parking and dorm space.
“I would love to see Winthrop grow, (but) Winthrop doesn’t have the facilities to handle that much growth,” Estes said. “Parking is atrocious. Even without the growth, finding a parking space is nearly impossible for the first half of the semester. I’ve missed classes because I couldn’t find anywhere to park.”
Traffic also is a concern as Rock Hill grows.
Winthrop plays a key role in transportation and traffic studies in the region, said David Hooper with the Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study (RFATS). He said Winthrop’s growth reflects a trend in Rock Hill and surrounding areas, and the increased traffic on roads such as Cherry and Celanese that comes with it.
Winthrop’s growth is a draw for companies to come to Rock Hill and bring jobs, Kyle said. Rock Hill has been working to encourage residents to live and work in the city.
“We use Winthrop as an example of why Rock Hill is a good place to find talent,” said Kyle, who earned his master’s at Winthrop. “More local talent equals more companies relocating and more companies is more jobs. That sparks the whole cycle of growth and development.”