2020 State of the University Address

February 7, 2020
by Steve M. Dorman, President
Russell Auditorium


Good afternoon. I would like to welcome you all to my eighth State of the University Address. I would like to especially welcome our city and county government dignitaries, members of our university Foundation Board of Trustees and Alumni Board and our student government leaders this afternoon.  Over the past several years, you have heard me talk about preeminence at Georgia College and the unique ways we deliver a liberal arts education.  Hopefully, you are all familiar with our simple formula:

state of the union - formula for success

And you have heard me talk quite a bit about the future of higher education and how institutions must navigate the new normal. For all of us at Georgia College, I hope these themes are now familiar, including the concept that preeminence is more of a state of mind rather than a destination or end point of a journey. While we see great things happening at Georgia College, we cannot make the mistake of proclaiming victory and going home. The world’s best institutions cannot rest on their laurels. So, we must continue to expand ways in which we add value.

Let’s reflect for a moment on where we are and what the signs along our path to preeminence look like. For starters, last fall, Georgia College was listed as a top public regional university by U.S. News & World Report. What is notable about this report is that we jumped from number 28 to 20 in one year on their most recent list of best regional universities in the south. Just last month, several of our graduate programs were also recognized by U.S. News and World Report. Our Web MBA and Nursing programs ranked first in their disciplines within the state.  Our graduate online programs in Business, Criminal Justice and Education were also recognized. Congratulations to the faculty, staff and administrators in each of these programs!

And because preeminence includes how we pay people, last year we undertook an effort to make sure that faculty and staff are paid in keeping with our desire for preeminence. This fall, we completed the faculty portion of the study; and we were able to set aside nearly half-a-million dollars for faculty salary increases. Because of this initiative, 100 faculty members started the new year with an increase in their base pay. The median adjustment was over $3300! We look forward to completing the staff study this spring and providing funding to bring our staff much deserved increases as well.

Similarly, a recent analysis of how state universities spend their money found that we spend more per student on instructional efforts than our state university sector counterparts. As an example of how this dedication to instruction pays off, I am so proud that over the last two years, Georgia College professors have been named winners of the USG’s Regent’s Teaching Awards for Excellence.  Last year, Dr. Christopher Clark (2019) received the honor as did Dr. Betta Vice (2018) the year before. This year, another GC professor, Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge, will receive the award at the Regent’s Gala later this month.

And of course, I am so excited that two weeks from today on Friday, February 21, at 11:00, we will break ground for a new state-of-the-art integrated science building – which will be built on the corner of Wilkinson and Montgomery Streets. And later that day at 1:30, we will have the official ribbon cutting for our newly renovated high-tech Terrell Hall which will house the Department of Communication. I hope all of you will join us for these joyous events!   

Preeminence: Signs Along the Way

These examples demonstrate progress we are making in our journey toward preeminence. But I also want you to know there are several initiatives that are rapidly taking shape and build on our existing strengths that have potential to greatly expand our national presence.

For instance, we are working to build the Andalusia Institute. Recently, we hired the founding director of this new initiative, Dr. Irene Burgess.  Dr. Burgess is a former provost who has been involved in leading a coalition of private liberal arts colleges in Pennsylvania. We are glad she has joined Georgia College and look forward to her work helping to lay the foundation of the Institute.  If you recall, this dream began during a state of the university speech when we began to think imaginatively about big ideas we might accomplish together. The emergence of the Andalusia Institute, combined with potential of the physical location of Andalusia, will allow us to more fully acknowledge Flannery O’Connor’s spirit of creativity; and this will undoubtedly lead to greater national visibility for Georgia College.

In addition, we recently announced creation of a Rural Studies Institute. I am thrilled that Dr. Veronica Womack has agreed to lead this important work.  Her passion for rural prosperity is unmistakable, and I am sure she is the champion we need for this effort. This ambitious initiative is also a dream realized, and it will allow us to focus on research and scholarship around issues that impact rural areas across Georgia and the nation.  This center will be cross-disciplinary focusing on educational, environmental, economic and health disparities in rural settings. We are currently assessing the possibility of adding new faculty across the university as part of a disparities cluster hire.

Our commitment to inclusive excellence remains as strong as ever. In fact, this year, the Office of the Provost launched a campus-wide Inclusive Excellence Faculty Research Fund.  And to continue our diversity efforts into the future, I have tasked Dr. Carolyn Denard, our new Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence and Chief Diversity Officer, to engage in the development of a second Diversity Action Plan that will build on the progress realized in the first Diversity Action Plan. I am looking forward to setting new and ambitious goals for our future in this area.

As you know, undergraduate research is an area of growing emphasis on campus. It is part of the GC Journeys experience; and under the leadership of the Provost, we are increasing research funds so that our students will have even more opportunities. This year, some of our students published in the Georgia Journal of Science along with their faculty mentors. Also, six GC students were selected to present their posters at the annual Posters at the Capital event at the Georgia legislature. In addition, ten grants were awarded to fifty different faculty members at Georgia College. You can expect additional support from the Provost to faculty members who wish to provide undergraduate research opportunities for their students.

I am delighted to report that this year we will create and host a national undergraduate research journal.  We believe this new journal will expand Georgia College’s presence among our peers. Georgia College will provide leadership for this national initiative which I am sure will enhance our national presence.  

This year, we intend to expand and build upon the success of our Honors Program. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our Honors programming, we will expand the size and scope of what we are doing by forming an Honors College. Our work in an Honors College will allow us to be more intentional in the way we support our students and ensure their success as they matriculate.

We have seen great progress with our Scholarships Office resulting from an intentional focus on creating student success.  I have asked the Provost to establish a similar function with its own dedicated campus champion for faculty success. Specifically, we are in the process of hiring a Faculty Success Coordinator within the Center for Teaching and Learning who will work closely with the colleges to identify awards, competitions and discipline-related recognition opportunities for which our faculty members can compete. This new function will collect and provide information, resources and intentional support for faculty members and guide them to the same sort of successes we have seen with our student scholarships office.

As you know, we are nearing the end of Georgia College’s most ambitious capital campaign. I want to congratulate Vice President Monica Delisa for doing an outstanding job, along with our entire Advancement staff and Foundation Board of Trustees. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the generous support from our alumni, friends and supporters of the university. According to the Office of University Advancement, as of the end of December 2019, our endowment had increased by 92% since I first became your president. As we close out a successful $30 million campaign, I am challenging us to focus a micro-campaign to increase first-generation scholarships and raise the funds needed to complete renovation of the Old Courthouse.  Of course, growing our endowment is part of our much larger plan to build institutional resiliency and long-term sustainability for the university.

Disruptive Changes

As we pursue all these groundbreaking initiatives, we are seeing changes in demographic trends; and other disruptive changes continue to loom on the horizon.  In remarks over the past few years, I have discussed this disruption and described the ways Georgia College must be ready to embrace the coming changes. For example:

state of the union - demand for four-year institutions

We know that there will be major demographic changes in terms of high school graduates and a precipitous fall of graduating high school seniors available for application pools beyond 2025. Unless we carefully prepare, this may impact our undergraduate enrollment.  We also know that rapidly changing shifts in demographics in terms of race and ethnicity will impact our application, enrollment and retention work. Also, the vastly different generational expectations regarding the higher education experience across areas including admissions, technology use, pedagogy, and advising and career preparation will impact how we manage the business of higher education. We also are aware of the disconnect between what employers say they need and what higher education institutions believe they are delivering.  We must be more responsive and create greater partnerships with our business leaders. We also know that it will be increasingly important to prepare students to be successful in a globally connected world and in careers that have not yet been created. This will require us to think differently and challenge traditional approaches. But make no mistake about it -- I am more and more convinced that we must help to shape the public narrative around the liberal arts, and we must continue to reaffirm its relevance for successful careers. As we do this, however, we must embrace rapid changes ushered in by disruptive technologies such as machine learning, automation, robotics, big data and blockchain applications.

A few months ago, I caught a glimpse of a Final Jeopardy question that I think presents a very poignant message regarding the disruption we face. For all of you Jeopardy fans out there, see if you can give the correct question to this clue:[1]

what is blockbuster slide

Do you remember Blockbuster?  In just a few years, they have gone from a force with outlets nearly everywhere to nonexistent because of consumer demand and changes in the way people want to watch movies.

In case you aren’t convinced about these profound changes, consider the following:

  • The world’s largest taxi company Uber owns NO vehicles.
  • The world’s largest accommodation provider Airbnb owns NO real estate.
  • The world’s most popular media owner Facebook creates NO content.
  • The world’s most valuable retailer Alibaba has NO inventory.[2]

So, you see, changes are already impacting us.  Just as we prepare students to embrace these disruptions, we too must be prepared to adapt, shape and redirect within higher education. This is a struggle faced by the entire higher education sector. Organizations that don’t embrace the changes that most assuredly are coming may ultimately end up like Blockbuster.

So, what are we planning to do about all these changes? That’s a fair question, and it’s a question I want everyone to reflect deeply upon. Perhaps the question might be better framed like this: What are you doing about all these changes? You see, these changes will impact every corner of the institution. No area is exempt.  The implications are far reaching. They span the way an individual faculty member teaches course material, to the type of degrees offered, to how we enroll students. They affect how we communicate to prospective students, parents, alumni and other stakeholders. These changes impact the way we form partnerships with stakeholders and with each other on campus, so that we deliver truly interdisciplinary perspectives and effective customer service.

This disruption has brought increasing competition for transfer students. With this in mind, we have recently partnered with Georgia Highlands College and with Gordon State College to provide a pipeline of students who might transfer into Georgia College in their junior year through a creative effort we call Pathways to GC.  This program allows us to share our current abundance of applications with these schools and potentially identify students early for future attendance at Georgia College.  We are pleased that these universities have joined the journey to student success here at GC and look for additional partnerships in the future.

Also, amidst the backdrop of disruption, I have asked the provost to assemble a faculty-focused taskforce that will be charged with developing out-of-the-box ideas focused on teaching and the future. The outcomes I am looking for might very well be unconventional, and I certainly hope they might be transformational and maybe even a bit uncomfortable. We will charge this taskforce to recommend ways that teaching and pedagogy can better reflect emerging trends and realities of society, technology, and how we teach the liberal arts and essential skills to all students. This task force might be better understood as a commission on the future role of faculty, and we hope it will culminate in a published report that might solicit reaction and reflection from academic thought leaders throughout the nation. These are the sort of changes we need to remain competitive and relevant.

In keeping with the theme of disruption, I am more convinced that we must approach education as a life-long endeavor. If, in fact, new knowledge reproduces itself annually, then it is unrealistic that a four-year bachelor’s degree will be enough to drive a 40-year career. Higher education, therefore, must become that environment that allows learners to check in to the academy from time to time throughout their career to receive skills and knowledge updates. For some, this additional training might take the form of a master’s degree. Others may seek micro credentials and micro degrees to upgrade their skills. So, we must think carefully about the challenges that this presents for the future. Chiefly, we must reconsider our approach to continuing education and lifelong learning. We must work more closely with industry and community partners to provide the education and training that they want and that they need to move forward in an ever-changing work environment. Furthermore, I call on the deans and department chairs to reach across our preconceived silos to create meaningful educational products and services to meet the need for a better trained workforce and provide a more robust education for students. We believe that a graduate trained in the liberal arts is superior. But we must also assemble meaningful opportunities to provide continuing career development for our former students and others in our community.  As I mentioned earlier, we expect to face a predicted decline in the number of high-school students applying to higher education starting in 2025. Continuing education and lifelong education products can bring new users into the academy and hopefully off-set the impact of the potentially substantial decrease in high school graduates who may enroll in higher education in the future.

As a part of this thinking, I also propose that we collectively work toward a strategic and ambitious set of metrics. These grand challenges are those we will be more intentional about measuring and improving. For example:

  • Our current four-year graduation rate is the second highest in the University System of Georgia. It is a good number, but it looks like we may have stabilized a bit in the last couple of years. However, I think we can do even better and believe we can set a target that is not only higher but also entirely realistic with the investments we are making. Therefore, I am calling for us to move the four-year graduation rate from 49% to 55% in the next three years.
  • Similarly, our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate continues to hover around 85%. This is a very good number; but today, I am calling for us to move that number to 88% over the next three years.
  • Under the leadership of Ms. Pittman and our Enrollment Management staff, we have been successful in diversifying our applicant pool and our acceptance pools. However, our matriculated student population has lagged in diversity. Therefore, I am calling for us to focus our efforts and to commit to greater diversity in our student body and that the diversity of our student body will move from 19% today to 25% by 2023.
  • Scholarships are a vital component to attracting, retaining and graduating a diverse student body. While we have significantly increased our number of scholarships during this campaign, I believe we can do even better. I, therefore, challenge us to add 50 new scholarships a year for a total of 150 new scholarships by 2023.  If successful, this will result in a 32 percent increase in the number of scholarships at Georgia College.
  • Finally, many of you know I have been steadfast in my stance against fee proliferation on our campus. So, in our continued effort to keep the cost of college affordable for our students, I have asked Ms. Allen to develop a phased-in plan that would lead to removal of all elective instructional fees by the start of the academic year 2021-22. Institutional funds will be used to provide for the needs currently supplied by these fees.

Final Thoughts

Now, as I conclude this speech, I want to go back for a moment to the beginning when I talked about student success. At the end of the day, we are a student-centric university that cares deeply about producing citizen-leaders who can think independently and lead creatively.

One way of explaining this is through what we are calling the GC Journeys program. This infographic might help you visualize how all these areas connect to each other. And, how everyone on campus is involved with the success of our students. I am excited about our efforts here at GC to produce success for all students. We call it GC Journeys because we believe all students are in a time of exploration and movement toward the goal of a successful life and career. We believe students are beginning their life’s journey and that we have the opportunity here at GC to lay the foundation for a successful life and career.

gc journeys graphic


With that in mind, we ask students to choose a major in an area of focus; and through our liberal arts emphasis, we make sure our students have experiences in a wide array of topics. We believe this type of approach provides exposure to the essential skills that employers say they want in today’s college graduate -- such as communication and decision-making skills, an appreciation for diversity, a global perspective, creativity and the ability to work in groups or teams.

In addition to having a major and exposure to other areas, we also want our students to have experiences related to retention, graduation, job procurement and satisfaction with college. These are called high-impact practices and they include experiences such as undergraduate research, community engagement, study abroad opportunities, leadership opportunities, career development opportunities, capstones, mentorships and internships.

We do all of this within an environment that is supportive of student success. We are determined to have smaller classes taught by faculty who are fiercely dedicated to the teaching/learning process. We have a robust co-curricular student life which provides service and leadership opportunities for students.  And we have efforts dedicated to enhancing the academic and career performance of students who choose to use them such as the writing, testing, academic advising, learning, and career advising centers.

At Georgia College, our goal is to provide opportunity for all students to have success in their pathway to productive lives and careers. GC Journeys makes sure that each student’s pathway is paved with opportunities for success.

So yes, we take student success seriously at Georgia College.  And, make no mistake about it, each of you here today plays a role in this journey. While sometimes these may seem like an unconnected set of initiatives, in reality, these are interconnected flagstones on the student journey to success. I hope you can see that you are an important piece in our students’ journey toward a successful career and life.  

Faculty, will you join me in this journey to student success?  You play an important and key role in the success of the GC Journeys program. The earlier a student connects with a faculty member, the more likely the student is to persist and graduate in a timely fashion. We know that it is very important for faculty to connect, encourage and assist students as they move toward their professional career goals.

Staff, will you join me in this journey to student success? Whether you work as a groundskeeper, a coach, an administrative assistant, financial aid staff, departmental administrator, residence hall staff or whatever sector of this great university you work in, your work is essential to student success.  Our students find you to be a source of encouragement and a part of their support system as they go through this journey. I hope each of you recognizes the important role you play in the success of our students.

It has been said:

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”[3]

You know, “the journey” really does matter.  Think about it… journeys change us. They open our eyes to new philosophies and new people. They allow us to discover new thoughts and develop dreams for the future. They expand our understanding of the human experience.  Some of the best journeys challenge us and sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. But, in the end, we find that the journey was worth it.

And it is no different for GC Journeys. It is our hope that the journey we offer students at GC will be life changing. Hopefully, it will be challenging and thought provoking … taking students to new and exciting places of the mind. Hopefully, it will be a journey that will set the course for a life of enjoyment and a career of productivity.  Hopefully, in the end, the journey will have mattered. I hope you will join me as we create this exciting journey; and as we change lives and impact the future!

But for now, please join me in watching this brief video that describes the GC Journey initiative here at Georgia College.

Let me thank you all for your continued dedication to your work. I know, you are all are working diligently toward our goal of preeminence.  And, I hope each of you will join me on the continuing journey to create student success at Georgia College.  And to remind you of this, as you leave today, we will provide you with a Join the Journey pin that I hope you will wear to remind you of our work together.

Thank you for your time today.

  1.  Wisse, Billy, and Michele Loud. “Jeopardy.” Season 36, episode 42, aired 19 Nov. 2019.
  2.  Bernard Bull. (October 30,2018)  The Future of Continuing Education;  INCPA Society, Society Blog; found at: incpas.org/detail-pages/blog-or-article-detail/the-future-of-continuing-education Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace, Generation Z Goes to College, Jossey-Bass, 2016.
  3. Raphael, Lev. (3/18/15; Updated Dec 06, 2017)  Hemingway’s Stolen Quotation. HUFFPOST; found at:  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hemingways-stolen-quotati_b_6868994