State of the University
February 9, 2018
by Steve M. Dorman, President
Good afternoon everyone, and thank you all for being here today as we review some of the highlights that have taken place at Georgia College this last year. I want to welcome both our Foundation and Alumni Board members who are here with us today. As you know, the Foundation Board has helped to oversee a period of amazing growth in the endowment and advancement work of Georgia College; and we thank them for their leadership. Also joining us are representatives from Georgia College’s Student Government Association. Under the leadership of President Mike Muller, SGA has had a very good year; and I am thankful for the positive role they play on our campus. It is also our honor to welcome some of our civic and community leaders who have joined us for this event: Mayor, Mary Parham-Copelan and County Commissioner Johnny Westmoreland.
As I address you today for the sixth time in this forum, I reflect back on the past year; and a number of significant achievements come to mind. And I must say, it has been a busy year!
As many of you know, last year, Governor Deal asked us to be the home for the Center for Early Language and Literacy. Of course, we were delighted to do so; and we named the center after our graduate First Lady Sandra Dunagan Deal who has done so much to promote reading throughout our state. The Literacy Center is an ambitious initiative to address the state’s acute need to strengthen the literacy skills of our youngest children. Being the host institution for this important initiative is indeed a testament to the expanding reputation of Georgia College, and I thank Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal for their confidence in us.
2017 also saw the gifting of Andalusia from the Andalusia Foundation to the Georgia College Foundation. This generous gift adds to the rich heritage of Georgia College and will allow us to preserve the wonderful legacy that Flannery O’Connor left behind. This gift opens up many possibilities for what Andalusia might provide for our faculty, our students, and aspiring writers everywhere.
And, I am delighted that in the fall we kicked off the most ambitious comprehensive campaign in the history of Georgia College. Our last comprehensive campaign reached a total of $11 million dollars. As a rule of thumb, universities double the amount of their last campaign. However, we determined to reach a bit further and set an initial target of $25 million. Well, folks, it turned out that was too conservative because as we unfurled the total amount raised during the silent phase of the campaign, it came to over $20 million. Therefore, with the encouragement of our Foundation Board, we reached even further and set a $30 million target for our campaign which we will conclude on June 30, 2020. We are well on our way to reaching that record-breaking goal, and I want to thank all our donors for their generosity and affection toward Georgia College. Of course, I also want to thank Ms. Monica Delisa and her entire team for their efforts.
There were also a number of capital improvements completed last year. To accommodate the ever-increasing interest in Georgia College, we needed a new facility to conduct student tours and present the university in a way that is both professional and uniquely Georgia College. And, so, we renovated Mayfair – and made it our new Welcome Center so that Ms. Suzanne Pittman and her all-star team of admission officers, recruiters, and student ambassadors can do what they do best and bring outstanding students to Georgia College.
In addition to Mayfair, we completed renovations to Beeson and McIntosh. Beeson is now home to numerous academic programs in our College of Arts and Sciences and will also be swing space while Terrell is being renovated this year. McIntosh houses several units within Academic Affairs.
Now more than ever, it seems that we need the next generation of independent thinkers to lead in creative ways – well beyond their majors and indeed beyond the academic enterprise. Because this is so critical to our core mission, we are committed to finding better ways of communicating who we are and what we do. So, in the summer of 2015, a group of faculty supported by the Provost embarked on an important initiative to better package these rich skills and experiences in a program that ensures all our students would benefit from our liberal arts education. Their efforts culminated in the GC Journeys Program. Students will participate in a minimum of five transformative experiences. The three required experiences are: a first-year experience, career planning milestones, and a senior capstone project. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in two other transformative experiences which may include: study abroad, community-based engaged learning, undergraduate research or creative endeavors, internships, and leadership programs.
The GC Journeys Program will become our trademark way of infusing the liberal arts into the GC experience. Many thanks to all who helped envision GC Journeys and are now making it a reality. More than 150 faculty, staff, students, and community members participated in conceptualizing, creating, and refining our GC Journeys Program. If you were involved in the GC Journeys Program, please stand. I would like to recognize and thank you all.
Building Blocks of Preeminence
By now, everyone at Georgia College is familiar with the word “preeminence.” I use it a lot to describe the path we are on, and I take pride when pointing out “the signs” along the way. I see these signs everywhere I turn at Georgia College. As president, I feel it is incumbent on me to make sure I do all that I can to build a strong foundation for preeminence – building blocks so to speak – so that our faculty, staff, students, and alumni can be successful. There’s a simple formula in my mind that leads us down a path to preeminence, and it goes something like this: student success plus faculty success plus staff success will yield institutional success.
One such building block is the continuous improvement of our four-year graduation rate, which is currently over 49 percent. Georgia College continues to have the second highest four-year graduation rate in the system. I am delighted to report that our three-year moving average continues increase annually. Thanks to Provost Brown and Associate Provost Denard for their leadership and focus on student success.
Related to our Journeys program is a leadership component that is beginning to permeate multiple areas within the University. Exposing our students to leadership opportunities is an important priority for Georgia College; and we are making a deliberate effort to cultivate, identify, and expand these opportunities for our students – in the classroom, through internships, athletics, community outreach, or extracurricular activities. Thank you, Dr. Harold Mock, for heading up our leadership efforts at Georgia College.
An example of this expansion is our first sorority leadership living-learning community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ms. Tiffany Bayne for her essential role in bringing this to Georgia College. This new leadership program will allow second-year Panhellenic members to live in an apartment-style university residence hall while also completing a leadership development program. This program came out of our very deliberate strategy of providing unique opportunities for our students to think independently and lead creatively.
Another important foundation for preeminence involves our ability to sustainably fund our long-term needs and to diversify our sources of funding. That is why our comprehensive campaign is so critical to the success of Georgia College. A significant portion of the money we raise goes toward financial aid to assist meritorious needs-based students through scholarships like the Legacy Fund. This is also critically important so that we can continue to recruit the best and brightest students regardless of their ability to pay tuition.
As a part of this comprehensive campaign, we also recently launched the Georgia College Family Scholarship Fund. This fund was created to provide educational support for the children and grandchildren of Georgia College faculty and staff. Recently, we announced that our Foundation has generously agreed to match all donations up to $100,000. This is a great way to invest in our faculty and staff – and to make sure that we can take care of our own so that they, in turn, can focus on doing preeminent things. I hope you all will consider this opportunity to support our own employees here at Georgia College.
In an effort to meet an important need of childcare for our faculty and staff, Georgia College forged a partnership with the Baldwin County School District to create a Montessori school which began in the fall. Staffing comes from Georgia College while the school district provides state-of-the-art facilities. In addition, pre-service teaching candidates from the College of Education at Georgia College directly benefit from this arrangement. This is a win-win scenario, and I am delighted we could be a part of this.
Recently, I was able to celebrate another example of our continued commitment to create staff success by recognizing a new Apprenticeship Program in Facilities Operations. Two of our employees, Derrieon Hickey and Bruce Clayton, recently completed a 2 ½ year program, in collaboration with Central Georgia Technical College. This training consisted of a structured academic offering coupled with competency-based field work with Georgia College mentors. In the end, Derrieon and Bruce are now certified HVAC technicians and are on the path to an even brighter occupational future. Would Derrieon and Bruce please stand? We are proud of you both. Let me also commend Mark Duclos for creating this win-win scenario for the institution – one where both staff and the institution benefit from the success created here. I am hopeful that other managers will create similar job enhancement opportunities for our outstanding staff at Georgia College as they seek to expand their skills.
To reward faculty and staff who contribute toward our path to preeminence, I am happy to announce a new initiative that further encourages preeminent success. The “Preeminence Promise Project” will be created to reward excellence through merit-based achievements. This initiative will create funding that will be added to the base salary of select faculty and staff who demonstrate preeminent work. You will hear more about this in near future through Provost Kelli Brown and Vice President Susan Allen.
Now, what conversation about institutional success would be complete without mentioning our favorite topic: Parking! I know that parking is an issue on everyone’s mind – and I want you to know it is on my mind as well. This year, we added 170 spaces to our parking inventory by paving the area behind The Depot. In the near future, we will be adding another estimated 50 spaces thanks to the purchase by our Foundation of property close to the main campus. Hopefully, there will be additional spaces as well that we can report in the near future. So, please know that we are continually trying to ease this very real problem for our campus by creating more parking spaces for all of us.
There are many reasons to remain optimistic about Georgia College’s future. We are well on a trajectory that is as ambitious as it is exciting. Georgia College must remain adaptive, nimble, and responsive to shifts in demographics, approaches to pedagogy, use of emerging technologies, and vastly different social paradigms.= Many of the changes we expect to happen will come from generational shifts for which we must prepare.
The University System of Georgia has recognized that the future of higher education will see disruptions to our business models and the status quo. Chancellor Wrigley has created a committee that is charged with defining the many ways higher education will change and what it might look like by the year 2025. The objective is to ensure that colleges, universities, and, indeed, the entire higher education system in Georgia will continue to evolve and serve our students better.
To that end, I am commissioning a task force charged with exploring the future of higher education and how Georgia College can be better prepared. I want this group to present actionable recommendations in the context of the new normal, our new strategic plan, and with the backdrop of the many profound changes taking place in higher education.
Georgia College does particularly well in providing our students with skills to navigate life. We prepare students for a work environment that exists in the present and one that will look very different in the future. We do this by constantly challenging our students to think independently – to be well rounded and apply lessons learned from one context to another.
Unfortunately, for much of the public at large, we know that the liberal arts concept is not always fully understood or appreciated. It is incumbent upon us to do a better job unpacking the liberal arts concept and explaining it in a way that resonates with our stakeholders and is motivational for prospective students.
To better communicate our brand, we have concluded an initiative to conduct research, focus groups, and surveys to better define and identify who we are, how we are distinct, and how others perceive us. Over the last year, thousands of prospective students, current students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff participated in this market research. What emerged was a set of descriptions, words, and phrases that we know resonate well with our target audience.
In addition to describing Georgia College as the state’s designated public liberal arts university – a position from which we will never move – we now have a set of words that we hope to use more consistently across all our marketing and branding platforms – including our website, our publications, our advertising, and across social media. After much deliberation, several words and phrases have consistently emerged; and we now have an idea that more clearly describes our core value proposition.
What are these words? What might this slogan be?
Georgia College – Think Independently. Lead Creatively.
The liberal arts, as we know, can be described in many ways. It is not a simple concept to explain in a few words or even a few sentences. However, we needed a way to describe the Georgia College experience to an audience that is not living in the same liberal arts “echo chamber” as we. These four words can say quite a bit in an elegant and compelling way.
Think Independently. Lead Creatively.
This slogan will be part of our branding campaign. We will be using it across all our visual touchpoints. However, our current logo will remain the same. A visual identity system is being developed in conjunction with the Office of University Communications and the Office of Admissions so that we can present a visually consistent look and feel across all of our communication platforms.
At Georgia College, we are very fortunate to have many great stories to tell – stories that reinforce this notion of thinking independently and leading creatively. I hope you will help us identify students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are thinking independently and leading creatively so that we might tell our story through their good work.
One such example is Kim Ryan. Kim is a Georgia College graduate who now serves as President of the WellStar Atlanta Medical Center. I met Kim only a couple of months ago; and as soon as I heard her story, I immediately thought how well she exemplifies and embodies the spirit of our new slogan. Kim is a true leader who has leveraged the liberal arts experience at Georgia College to think independently and lead creatively during one of our nation’s largest natural disasters, Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Ms. Ryan led her team without a single loss of life. Here is Kim’s remarkable story.
Bradley Galimore, a senior fine arts major is learning what it is like to think outside the box and lead creatively. Bradley uses his artistic talents to help students at the Georgia Academy for the Blind experience print making, creating an exciting opportunity for these students to express their creativity. Would you watch Bradley’s story with me?
Georgia College Highlights
There are so many success stories at Georgia College that, like last year, we felt it was appropriate to produce an annual year-in-review highlights publication to capture some of them. Copies of this publication are available today, and I would encourage you to read through the many exciting accomplishments taking place on campus. I hope you will share these accomplishments with others and congratulate the many folks who are doing preeminent work among us.
For example, we just launched an eSports team; and several of our students will participate in the first Peach Belt eSports championship to be held here in Magnolia Ballroom in the next few weeks. There is such interest in this that we have been told that NCAA officials will be on hand to observe this emerging competition. Currently, the Peach Belt is the only conference offering an eSports competition of this type.
Also, Georgia College had four Fulbright semi-finalists last year. One of them, Audrey Waits, was awarded a Fulbright grant to research pathogenic bacteria in reindeer with researchers from the Thule Institute at the University of Oulu in Finland. Now that is exciting!
In the fall, Dr. Karen Berman was recognized as one of twelve recipients of the 2017 Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities. Thank you, Dr. Berman, for bringing this prestigious award to Georgia College.
Senior Project Manager Mark Bowen recently received the Distinguished Service Award from our University System Office. This award is given to an individual who demonstrates exemplary service in his or her job duties and has gone above and beyond normal job responsibilities. We were so proud to see Mark win this award, and I know this was well deserved.
The Final Word
Let me leave you with some final things to contemplate. Like many of you, I am paying close attention to the divide we now have in our society and the deterioration of civil discourse that exacerbates social and political tensions in our nation. We are seeing gradual – even alarming – shifts in public opinion with respect to higher education and its role in society. As a sector, we certainly do not want higher education to remain stale and unable to make the bold changes necessary to respond to emerging needs and expectations.
I see the value of what we do more important now than ever before. So I am asking all of us, myself and my cabinet included, to continually think about institutional renewal and to constantly question whether we are prepared to navigate in the new normal or respond better to emerging expectations from students or even an increasingly skeptical public about our role in society. I want to challenge our faculty, in particular, to take teaching beyond mastering a particular discipline. Our goal is to instill in our students an appreciation for critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and to encourage them to have a deeper appreciation for intellectual honesty that values multiple perspectives before gravitating to any one in particular.
We must do a better job of walking a balanced tight rope. It would be easy for higher education to become too focused on the more utilitarian needs of preparing our students for careers and to be gainfully employed. Additionally, it would be easy to err by focusing too much on the metrics and indices of improvement and failing to see the bigger picture of what we are doing – contributing to the character of our students enabling them to think and lead. Don’t get me wrong. Georgia College has and will continue to make great investments in the areas of strategic planning, assessment, and in career preparation. However, there must be more to the college experience. College must be a time where students go through a process of self-discovery and learning how to more fully exercise their intellectual curiosity. We must create a truly transformative experience that contributes to the character of our learners – enabling them to think independently and lead creatively as they step into the future. So let us not relinquish this important role for Georgia College. Let us do our part to help foster constructive attitudes and shape a future that is collegial and inclusive.
As we continue on our path to preeminence, I challenge all of us – faculty, staff, and students - to take full advantage of Georgia College’s many opportunities to think independently and to lead creatively – and ultimately move us closer to our goal of preeminence.
State of the University
February 24, 2017
by Steve M. Dorman, President
Good afternoon and thank you for attending my fifth State of the University address. While many universities are struggling to fund new initiatives and ongoing operations, I am pleased to say that Georgia College is doing very well. Our enrollment figures look promising, and our list of achievements grows even longer. Georgia College is on a clear path to preeminence. And, we see signs of preeminence across our campus – as evidenced by the way that each of you works.
Our students’ success, our faculty productivity, and our staff excellence are all important indicators of preeminence and hallmarks along the way that we can all point to with pride.
We are all working toward preeminence – often in ways that are not always obvious. Our campus is one example of this. I can’t tell you how many times parents and other guests have visited Georgia College and told me how impressed they were with our beautiful campus and the outstanding opportunities we provide for our students.
Everyone who interacts with our students plays a role in the development, support, and education of that student. We have some of the best faculty members who are diligently devoted to our students, their scholarship, and engagement in the communities we serve. We also have deeply committed staff members – many of whom work behind the scenes and are just as essential to the Georgia College success story. My gratitude is extended to:
- the hard-working men and women who interact with our students at The MAX
- the advisors who guide our students and help them discover their major, find internships, and prepare for a career
- our athletic department staff who challenge our students to compete with honor
- the housing staff who create a “home away from home” for our students
- the campus life group who provide richness to the Georgia College experience
- our campus bus drivers who know our students by name and safely transport them
- the financial aid staff who guide students through the process to receive necessary support
- the campus public safety officers who guard the safety and well-being of our entire community
- our advancement professionals who work hard to expand our endowment and generate support, scholarships, and funding for important initiatives.
Collectively, the work that you do propels us to new heights. It is this collective work to provide an exceptional environment for our campus and community that will lead us to preeminence.
We have assembled a companion piece that you will receive as you leave today. It highlights our long and very impressive list of accomplishments and accolades from our past year. These are clear signs of preeminence, and I could not be more proud of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
The New Normal
I would like to focus my remaining remarks on the future and the horizon we see when we look across higher education in the State of Georgia and the nation – and what this means for our institution. Our path toward preeminence has been a common theme for several years now, and I am delighted at the progress we are making. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be speed bumps along the way. These speed bumps are not necessarily negative in nature, but they do present an opportunity for us as an institution to think clearly about how we negotiate the environment they represent. Many of you have heard me talk about what has been called the “new normal” in higher education. There is no doubt that higher education is undergoing a tremendous time of disruption, and the changes taking place are substantial and even unprecedented.
In many states in the country, public funding for higher education has declined year after year causing distress in institutions that are ill-prepared. Based on research done by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), some states have restored some of the deepest cuts to higher education; but the total funding for public two and four year colleges is billions below what it was prior to the Great Recession – even while accounting for inflation. 
Unfortunately, we also know that to offset reduced state support, public universities have had to raise tuition and fees. The result has been tuition increases that have risen significantly faster than the median income of families across America. Although Georgia College has been relatively restrained when it comes to tuition increases, the trend across the United States has seen sharp increases across the sector. That same study by the CBPP  demonstrated that Georgia, along with five other states, saw tuition increase by more than 60 percent since the 2007-08 academic year.
At Georgia College, our tuition increases have not surpassed 3% annually since 2012; and there was no tuition increase in the last budget. This tuition cap removed a critical source for new funding at Georgia College and, thus, limited our ability to grow and introduce new initiatives.
We have come to depend on tuition as one of the important pillars to provide new funding for the institution. However, in a time when tuition increases have become politically unpopular, we may be facing more years without tuition increases. Therefore, we must prepare for a future where tuition and fee increases may be few.
Related to this, I would like to describe another speed bump along our path to preeminence. Our appropriation from the state is largely derived from a funding formula that favors student enrollment growth. For us to maintain our mission and stay within our niche, we have made the decision to purposefully cap enrollment to stay true to our brand and true to our unique identity. This is the product for which we are known. In fact, it is this very distinctiveness that keeps us strong. So, I expect that we will continue to be selective and intensely focused on our liberal arts mission with relatively small class sizes so that we can better focus on the success of our students. What that means for us as an institution is a smaller share of new funding dollars as we grow in quality and diversity but not in quantity. We must all remember that this self-imposed decision, this self-imposed speed bump, will create yet another limit to the new resources that are available for the institution.
Although university presidents and our system office advocate for higher education in Georgia, we also acknowledge the budgetary and fiscal realities we face. In fact, the Governor’s latest annual Budget Report indicates that the State of Georgia already spends over 53 percent of its budget on education;  but it also has needs to fund healthcare, public safety, and transportation among other policy areas. It is unlikely we will see significant new funding for higher education – not only in Georgia, but broadly across the nation as well. This is why I must be clear with you today about the very real impact of the “new normal” on higher education and on our university. Without tuition increases and with no enrollment growth, new funding from these sources will be very limited in the future.
As I look toward our path to preeminence, budget implications are not the only issues that are emerging that we must seriously consider. Changing demographics will shape the composition of our applicant pool and our student body, and we MUST be well-positioned. The changes I am referring to are both in terms of overall number of students graduating from high schools across the United States and in terms of the changing composition of students.
Nationwide, the number of students receiving a high school diploma in 2017 is expected to drop significantly. In fact, Inside Higher Ed reports that the number of high school graduates is expected to decrease by around 81,000 – reflecting a 2.3 percent decrease in this year.  While Georgia is among the states that will see a rising population , the rate of growth we see for high school graduates is expected to slow down in several more years. 
As many of you know, I have made diversity and inclusive excellence an essential part of Georgia College’s strategy. It’s an area of emphasis that is important to us. It’s the right thing to do and aligns well with the values we collectively espouse. As it turns out, it’s also a strategy that is essential for the university’s long term success and business progress. For example, even during periods of demographic leveling, the Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander population is expected to increase considerably. From the period between 2014 and the mid-2020s, the Hispanic population will grow by 50 percent at our nation’s public high schools.  Becoming a more diverse institution is just good business sense.
So, what are we doing as an institution to prepare for these demographic changes? How are we changing our recruiting and student support strategies to accommodate this demographic shift? To prepare our institution for the future, we need to answer these questions. Therefore, I am directing Provost Kelli Brown, Dr. Veronica Womack, Dr. Bruce Harshbarger, and Ms. Suzanne Pittman to assemble a task force with a mandate to provide a set of recommendations for how our institution must change to prepare for this demographic shift. We must be well-positioned as an institution so that we can be proactive and benefit from Georgia’s emerging demographic trends and opportunities.
Emerging Technologies and Blended Learning
I believe that fundamental changes in demographics are also being matched with rapid generational changes, and this will have enormous implications on how we use technology. This brings me to another potential speed bump on our road to preeminence. Recently, I had the privilege to visit one of our feeder high schools in Atlanta. As I walked through the school, I was struck with the level of technology and what appeared to be group instruction that was going on in the classroom. As I talked with our student guide, she told me about how all of the students used the learning management system and that their courses and notes were delivered directly to their laptops in that format. These students will be our students. These students are our students now! It is clear that we must challenge ourselves to a higher level of innovative pedagogy. “Sage on the stage” is a pedagogy that will not meet the demands or the needs of our students who will confront a world filled with technology and the need to work with others.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am not advocating for a total conversion of our curriculum to online learning. However, I am encouraging our faculty to fully engage with our learning management system and, where possible, employ technology in a hybrid way and use group learning techniques in our coursework. Our students expect it and need it to be prepared for their future. Drs. Brown and Spirou have been vigorously imagining a new Center for Teaching and Learning that will provide state-of-the-art training, assistance, and advice to faculty who want to practice innovative pedagogy. Our brand as an institution is inextricably connected to our outstanding faculty and their outstanding teaching. We are known for our excellent teaching, and we cannot afford to go stale. Therefore, we must continue to reach forward and challenge ourselves in our course design and teaching.
This is not the only task that technology presents as we proceed toward preeminence. As we become more and more technologically dependent, we must make sure that our institution has the highest capacity possible to meet the needs of our advanced users – who most of the time will be our students! In addition, we must employ every technique possible to guard and protect the private information with which we as an institution have been entrusted. This involves, among other things, doing a better job of teaching our students, faculty, and staff to guard their own information. Finally, we must employ advanced techniques to make sure that the frequent attempts to hack into our institution’s web presence and data files are thwarted and that our data are safe.
An additional challenge, has to do with tracking the placement of our students into a career or advanced educational studies. Now we could argue all day about the importance or value of a college education in itself, and I would be the first to agree with you that the educated individual is an individual who has the skills and ambitions to live a full life. Yet, those who hold us accountable want to see outcomes that are connected to a career or advanced study. To be honest with you, I believe that the product and skills that we deliver at Georgia College are exactly what those in business and industry say they want. But many times, the way we talk about a liberal arts education does not sufficiently communicate that our students are prepared with skills that are needed in the marketplace.
Therefore, we are strengthening our Career Center; and we are intentionally guiding our students with career milestones and ways to talk about the transferrable skills they have acquired in their Georgia College experience. We are collecting information about where our graduates are and how many from each class and each college are employed. Further, I have asked the Provost to create an Office for Pre-professional Advising that will promote, prepare, and assist those students who wish to pursue advanced professional or graduate studies after graduation from Georgia College. It is my belief that our experience is a superior experience that prepares the graduate for both life and career. It is time we collect the data to prove it.
Institutional Branding and the Liberal Arts
This brings me to a connected but final speed bump that I would like to mention today. This challenge has to do with our ability to communicate who we are and the added value we generate to a public that is increasingly skeptical of higher education in general. It is incumbent upon us to clearly “unpack” for the public what we mean when we say public liberal arts institution. Further, it is important that we state clearly the relative advantage of a liberal arts education. We take for granted that everyone understands and appreciates the wonderful work that we do here. Yet, what we find when we survey others in the state about Georgia College is an incomplete understanding about our niche and the outcomes we provide.
This is not just a Georgia College problem. This is an issue across the country, and sometimes rather prominent individuals pronounce statements about the liberal arts based upon a very light understanding of what “they” are. Unfortunately, we also may find ourselves in an echo chamber where we are often too quick to believe our own press when we haven’t adequately informed others about the relative advantage of a Georgia College degree.
As a result, we are in the middle of an ambitious branding project in which some of you have participated – and for that, I thank you. We are going to be calling upon everyone to help us define and express the value of a Georgia College degree to our most important audiences. We must communicate that in a way that is memorable, distinctive, and resonates with prospective students and their parents, prospective employers, donors, and the public at large.
Our Path to Preeminence
So, how will we respond to these speed bumps along our path to preeminence? Let me offer a few more things we must do as an organization to safely maneuver through these opportunities and challenges.
Looking forward, we must continue to redirect our funding so that we can continue the great momentum we have at Georgia College. As I have noted, the two primary sources of new funding for this institution may not be as prominent in our future. Therefore, we must prepare for alternative ways to fund new initiatives and programming.
Given our mandate to be the state’s only designated public liberal arts university, we are fortunate to have a focused mission. We cannot and will not try to be everything to everyone. That focus is precisely why we can accomplish so much, but we must continuously find ways of being nimble and to navigate the institution on our path to preeminence.
At Georgia College, we have introduced a number of efficiencies into our operations – so much so that we have been able to keep tuition increases relatively modest. I am pleased to report that we are also doing much more to control the cost of college, including:
Capping tuition levels: In Spring 2015, approximately 25 percent of our students took advantage of the savings generated by tuition charges that max out at 15 hours. This alone saved 1,652 students over half a million dollars.
Dual enrollment: 296 students brought in 3,400 hours to Georgia College in Fall 2015 – saving $1,148,270 in tuition resulting in an average savings of $3,879 per student in the fall semester.
Cost of Textbooks: Our initiatives driven by faculty members reduced the cost of textbooks by more than $130,000 in our last academic year.
Energy savings: Over the last five years, we saved approximately $474,081 from reduced energy costs – amounting to approximately $70 per student.
Of course, we also make college more affordable by continuing to improve our four-year graduation rate. In fact, our four-year graduation rate is second in the system; and we will continue to support our students through intrusive advising, course scheduling, and making better use of our summer semester to ensure that our students move along with the appropriate advice and support throughout their experience at GC.
Another area where I believe we can mitigate the financial burdens of running the university and providing scholarships for our students is by expanding our endowment. In the 2016 fiscal year, our foundation returned over $1.5 million to our students, faculty, and staff in scholarships and awards from the endowment. This was an increase of 64% from 2012. So, as you can see, the success of our Foundation has already become a new source of funding for the university; and this has also become part of the new normal.
During our last fiscal year, our advancement team raised over $4.7 million for Georgia College – the second highest annual total in our history and second only to the $5 million that was gifted the prior fiscal year. Our overall endowment has grown from just over $25 million when I arrived here in 2012 to over $36.74 million in the first quarter of 2017. This represents an increase of approximately 45 percent. By all indications, it appears we are well underway to embark on the university’s most ambitious capital campaign. We are fortunate to have members of our Foundation Board here today, and I would like to ask them to stand so we can recognize them and thank them for their guidance and stewardship. Also here with us today are members of our Alumni Board. Please stand and be recognized for the support you provide Georgia College.
Our new strategic plan helps us think clearly about navigating these speed bumps. In 2015 and 2016, an incredible number of faculty, staff, and students joined together to create a new strategic plan for the university. From that process, emerged a fresh vision and set of values that affirm who we are today and where we want to be in the future. We are seeking ways to measure progress and track important indicators that we know are the hallmarks of preeminent institutions. Our strategic plan affirms our commitment to providing our students with an expansive education experience – one that is transformative and which prepares them for an exciting future with the transferrable skills we know they will need throughout their lifetimes and across various career changes.
The Final Word
I know that I spent a lot of time talking about speed bumps along our way to preeminence. But let’s be clear here. While they present challenges, they are by no means unique to Georgia College. In fact, universities across the nation will be experiencing some of these same speed bumps. Some will ignore the bumps and hope they go away. Some think they are immune to the bumps and will attempt to speed right over them. Some are not on the same ambitious course to preeminence with which we have challenged ourselves so the speed bumps may not be as consequential.
What is different about Georgia College, and why am I convinced that we will successfully negotiate these speed bumps and achieve preeminence?
Georgia in many ways is doing much better than other states in terms of state support for higher education as well as population growth. Within the state of Georgia, we are fortunate that Georgia College is one of just three selective institutions in the university system and the state’s only designated public liberal arts university. When I arrived here in 2012, there were 3,515 completed applications for the freshman class. In 2017, we had over 4,000 completed applications. Over the last five years, our four-year graduation rate has improved from 39.93 percent in 2012 to 47.55 percent in 2016. Our median faculty salary has risen from $54,911 in 2012 to $62,447 in 2017. When I arrived in 2012, the total number of FTE faculty was 348. In 2017, the faculty has grown to 371. Funding for research has grown considerably. Over this same time frame, our endowment has expanded considerably; and we continue to set new fundraising records every year. In 2012, we raised over $2.4 million; and this year to date for 2017, we have raised an astounding $3.8 million dollars. Indeed, we are poised to set another record. With this sort of momentum, it is easy to see that our endowment has expanded.
While these speed bumps are very real, we are also at the vanguard of making relevant changes to the way we operate because of the actions we are taking. This is why I have tremendous confidence in the institution and the people with whom we work. By being proactive and nimble as a university, we can react to, adjust, and navigate through these changes – much the way we train our own students to navigate through life’s challenges and adventures. Despite these challenges along the way, I am delighted at the progress we have already made and the accomplishments that I know are on the horizon. I am very impressed with all that we accomplished in just the last year. I could spend all day talking about the accomplishments, accolades, and successes of our students, faculty, and staff. Needless to say, I am excited about the momentum we have at Georgia College.
With that sentiment in mind, we prepared a short video that I would like to share with all of you.
Those were just a few examples of what makes Georgia College a special place. We prepared a more comprehensive booklet which you will all be receiving today. That booklet highlights many more accomplishments from last year. I hope you all feel as optimistic as I do about our path to preeminence and how everyone here today is making a profound difference. When we talk about preeminence, it is about developing a culture of excellence and having the right plans, indicators, and metrics in place. The work we are doing collectively as a university is truly remarkable, and the trajectory I see ahead is very exciting for all of us.
The American builder and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie said: "Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results." 
And so, let me end my remarks by thanking all you for your hard work and dedication. Together, as a team, we can confront and overcome any challenges that the future may present. We can produce the fuel that will allow us to achieve our uncommon goal of preeminence.
Thank you for being here today. Please pick up your copy of the 2016 year in review booklet as you leave here, and I hope you will join me for a brief reception just outside as you exit Russell Auditorium.
- Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman, Kathleen Masterson, “Funding Down, Tuition Up: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Quality and Affordability at Public Colleges,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, August 15, 2016.
- Mitchell, Leachman, and Masterson, “Funding Down.”
- Nathan Deal, Governor of the State of Georgia and Teresa A. MacCartney, Director of Planning and Budget, The Governor’s Budget Report, Fiscal Year 2018, p. 23.
- Rick Seltzer, “The High School Graduate Plateau,” Inside Higher Ed, Last modified December 6, 2016, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/12/06/high-school-graduates-dro....
- Georgia Governor’s Office on Planning and Budget, “Georgia Residential Population Projections by Age and County 2013-2050,” 2016.
- NCES, Institute of Education Statistics, “Projections of Education Statistics to 2024,” Forty-third Ed., pg. 51, 2016.
- Peace Bransberger and Demarée K. Michelau, “Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates,” Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), pg. 2, December 2016.
- Goodreads Andrew Carnegie Quotes: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/251192-teamwork-is-the-ability-to-work-t...