Graduate education matters

Byrnes Auditorim at Winthrop University in Rock Hill
Byrnes Auditorim at Winthrop University in Rock Hill Herald file

Winthrop University is joining colleges and universities across the state to celebrate “South Carolina Graduate Education Week” (Feb. 12-16) and highlight the significant contributions of our graduate students.

Given the discussions surrounding graduate education in the recent tax bill and the current debate over the Higher Education Act, “South Carolina Graduate Education Week” comes at a perfect time.

As you probably remember, the original tax bill proposed this past fall would have significantly increased the tax liability for graduate students receiving tuition abatements for their work as graduate assistants. This provision was removed, thankfully, from the final bill passed by the U.S. Senate and approved by President Donald Trump.

That this provision was considered at all, however, illustrates that many perceive graduate education to be a private benefit for an individual student, and public support (i.e. tax dollars) should therefore not be allocated to support such an enterprise. While a master’s degree no doubt serves the individual student, this perception is short-sighted and overlooks the public good that results from graduate education.

As Council of Graduate Schools Vice President Beth Buehlmann recently explained in an article on cnbc.com, limiting financial support would dramatically decrease the number of students able to pursue graduate studies, which would in turn negatively impact our communities: “We have an opioid crisis. If you don’t have people who are trained as rehabilitation counselors and health technicians, you’re not going to be able to get people through this.”

The impact of Winthrop’s graduate programs and students on our own community is unmistakable. For example, graduates of our Master of Social Work program serve us all through their work in hospitals, social services, child welfare, and mental health and substance abuse services. Moreover, these students’ contributions begin even before they graduate. In the past year alone, Winthrop MSW students contributed more than 46,700 internship hours in area agencies, which equates to a monetary impact of more than $1.1 million.

Similarly, graduate students in Winthrop’s counseling and development program contribute over 9,000 internship hours annually to multiple community counseling and human services agencies. Faculty and students in this program also manage and work in Winthrop’s Community Counseling Clinic, a free clinic open to the public that serves more than 300 clients a year.

Winthrop’s school psychology program is a nationally renowned program, one that requires intensive clinical training in area schools. This past year, school psychology students provided more than 13,000 hours of service to area school districts, children, teachers and families.

Parents in our community know the impact of teachers who graduated from Winthrop’s Richard W. Riley College of Education. But many may not know that more than 170 graduates from Winthrop’s M.Ed. in educational leadership program serve as principals and assistant principals across the region.

The examples above are in addition to the many contributions of graduate alumni in our other graduate programs, such as the MBA, MFA or M.S. in human nutrition. Graduate education matters. It matters because obtaining a graduate degree is a private benefit that serves the public good.

Winthrop’s graduate students and alumni continue to make an immediate impact on our economy, community and culture.

Jack DeRochi has served as dean of Winthrop University’s Graduate School since 2012.