Swinton Pushed Benedict ForwardFeb 01, 2017 06:13PM ● By Makayla Gay
By Susan Curry
Photography ©2016 Brian Dressler / dresslerphoto.com
Dr. David Swinton believes there’s too much economic disparity in the U.S. Tackling that challenge has been one of his priorities during his 23-year tenure as president and CEO at Benedict College. Swinton, who is retiring at the end of June, hopes his successor will continue to push in that direction.
The longest-serving president in Benedict’s 141-year history, Swinton will leave behind a legacy of accomplishment. Enrollment has more than doubled since he arrived in 1994. He has pushed innovation, and his tenure focused on advocacy for those with few financial resources.
One priority for him was to give people, especially those from low-income families, an opportunity to complete a college education. “I believe everybody should be given a chance,” he says. “There is so much disparity economically in our country that many people aren’t able to achieve what so many of us have been able to accomplish.”
To provide an opportunity for those individuals from low-income families, Swinton established new policies and programs. “I designed supports to help the students achieve academic success, as well as for after graduation when they enter the work force. I provided tutors, set up computers in every campus building and dormitories so students have easy access. I also decreased class size to 19 students, and established seminars that prepare them for academic success and their eventual employment.”
Swinton established the Service Learning and Leadership Development Program for this purpose. The program includes seminars focusing on attitudes, motivation and expectations of the work environment. The Writing Center also enhances students’ written and oral performances. He also implemented a new grade system for freshmen. “I wanted to give each student a chance at success, so if they try to make an effort, they automatically receive an A. The efforts include such things as class attendance, completing homework assignments, and attending tutoring sessions.”
During Swinton’s presidency, these policies and programs have contributed to many success stories with 45 percent of the students graduating, and while 32 percent leave the college, they return to graduate within six years of their initial enrollment. Over the past five years, more than 34 percent of graduates were accepted into graduate schools, or medical or law schools. These include Harvard and Georgetown Universities, Emory University’s School of Medicine, University of Connecticut Dental School, and Duke University’s Nursing and Divinity divisions. Benedict students have also been hired at some prestigious companies, including Bank of America, Price Waterhouse Cooper, JPMorgan, and General Electric.
Swinton believes in students having fun, pride in their school, and opportunities for success in other areas of their lives. He brought back the Tiger Football Team after a 29-year absence, and added the Tiger Marching Band, which led to bringing back music as a major.
“I also had a new athletic complex built, and an environmental health science facility,” Swinton says. “We also added six new dormitories, and increased the size of the campus by purchasing 120 acres of land, and refurbished several campus buildings. Along with the additions to the campus, I increased the number of majors as well.”
Swinton is also a strong believer in community service. He has instilled this in the students by requiring them to complete 120 hours of community service by their senior year. In 1999, he helped organize several investors to establish the South Carolina Community Bank, the only minority-owned bank in the state. He also spearheaded redevelopment efforts of the area surrounding the college, including the Benedict-Allen Community Development Center and the purchase and refurbishing of homes in the college neighborhood.
He created the Business Development Center for Columbia citizens, which focuses on economic and business development needs of small and minority businesses in Columbia and the state.
Another accomplishment was creation of the Community Leader Center for Columbians to provide life-enhancing skills to help people obtain jobs, purchase homes, and become financially literate.
Swinton established community programs for youth and veterans. The Youth Leadership Institute gives high school sophomores and juniors a chance to participate in an intensive academic experience. The students develop a path toward an academic and personal future, which includes independent thinking, achievement, and social responsibility.
“I also established another youth program open to ages 16 to 24 who reside in Columbia,” Swinton says. “It’s geared toward high school dropouts, those involved with the justice system, and those leaving the foster care system. The program includes classroom training toward a future in the construction industry. The Veterans Workforce Development Center prepares veterans after service for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
The college has begun a three-phase process to develop a sports complex on 60 acres of newly acquired land. The complex will include a football stadium, a football practice field, tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, a soccer field, and an outdoor track. Swinton also helped remodel an after-hours club into a health and fitness center.
Swinton’s contributions to community service, and his including it as part of the college curriculum, have not gone unnoticed. He was honored by President Obama when Benedict hosted the President’s 2015 Town Hall Meeting. Swinton was the 2015 recipient of the President’s Honor Roll for leading President Obama’s national call to service and volunteering.
“I hope the college will continue to improve and remain strong,” Swinton says. “I am concerned about the economic disparities in our country. I’ve tracked economic data over the years and there is still a great need to make higher education attainable for those with low incomes. I hope that the new college president continues to make social mobility a
priority. I’ve always said as president that Benedict College believes in open enrollment, but not exits.”
Although Swinton himself is exiting the college, he plans to remain in Columbia. During retirement, he plans on writing books and consulting, focusing on economic disparity, and continuing his community involvement in Columbia.
Benedict will honor Swinton’s career with a retirement celebration in April. A 13-member committee is conducting a national search for his successor.