2012 State of the University Address

Posted On October 3, 2012 by Mark P. Becker
Categories Speeches


I am going to focus on three areas that should be of broad interest. They are: Progress the University has made over the past year, including updates on selected parts of our strategic plan and on related facilities projects now underway; the current economic environment and what it means for Georgia State’s budget; and an overview of what you can expect as we roll into our Centennial year in 2013.

For four years the global economic crisis has presented a seemingly endless string of challenges, and yet Georgia State is making excellent progress across all aspects of its mission.

As you will see, our accomplishments in student success and research have been record setting.

At the same time, faculty and staff have endured pay freezes for nearly four years, while health care and other costs have risen.

And we’ve had to help more students than ever before with financial assistance to make the dream of a college education reality. These are not easy times, yet Georgia State is moving forward.

In this time of rapid change, standing still is akin to moving backwards, and backwards is unacceptable.

We must continually work to move forward in advancing our goals for Georgia State, and forward in addressing the economic hardships that faculty, staff and students are experiencing.

Strategic Plan Update

This is indeed an exciting period in the history of Georgia State University.

Throughout Atlanta and across the state of Georgia and the nation there is palpable recognition that good and special things are happening at GSU.

The credit for that recognition goes to the faculty, staff, and students who contributed to the development of our strategic plan, and to all of you who are hard at work implementing that plan.

Over the past year we have made significant progress across our strategic plan’s five goals.

Today I am highlighting some of our progress on two of these goals: student success and research.

A more extensive tracking of our progress on the entire plan can be found at the web address on the screens (strategic.gsu.edu/plan-progress/).

The precise statement of our student success goal is that we will “become a national model for undergraduate education by demonstrating that students from all backgrounds can achieve academic and career success at high rates.”

Our progress toward this goal is stunning. Last year Georgia State University conferred a record 7,365 degrees, an increase of more than 1,500 degrees over just five years.

Just as impressive, students from all ethnic and racial backgrounds succeed at Georgia State at nearly equal rates, and the same is true of students from all economic backgrounds.

With a one-year increase of 17 percent, Georgia State now confers more undergraduate degrees to African Americans than any other non-profit university in the nation.

We are also in the Top 50 in the nation, and Number 1 in Georgia, in conferring baccalaureate degrees to Asian Americans.

Likewise, GSU is number one in Georgia in conferring baccalaureate degrees to Hispanics.

In fact, in a recent report from the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C., based non-profit organization that promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, GSU ranked No. 1 among all public universities in the nation for the rate at which we graduate Hispanic students relative to other student populations, and we ranked No. 2 in the nation for our improvement of graduation rates of Hispanics.

This is because we have raised the graduation rate 37 points in the past six years. That is absolutely stunning progress!

Under the leadership of Associate Provost Tim Renick we have been using data to design and evaluate the programs that are at the heart of our student success goal, and we are being recognized nationally for our innovations.

For example, in their report the Education Trust lauds GSU for our data-driven approach to increasing graduation rates.

New and innovative programs, like our Keep Hope Alive Program and our Latino Leadership Pipeline Program, are being designed, tested and implemented at Georgia State, and they are key drivers in our increasing graduation rates.

This year our institutional graduation rate hit 51 percent – a record high for GSU.

Increasing graduation rates is frequently compared to turning a battleship, something that requires a lot of time, effort and teamwork.

Now, envision turning a battleship that is growing larger as you turn it.

That is what we are accomplishing as GSU has been increasing its graduation rate while simultaneously serving more students, and more diverse students.

Less than a decade ago our graduation rate stood at just 32%, and five years ago it was 41%.

Those percentages might seem surprisingly low, but they are the reality for most universities similar to Georgia State, universities where students generally have high levels of financial need and there are large numbers of first-generation students.

Now we are at 51 percent, and our sights are set on taking the graduation rate above 60% in the coming years.

Our most recent innovation to improve student success is in the area of academic advising, and already we are receiving national attention for our innovation in this field.

This fall, we became one of only three universities in the nation to implement a pioneering new advising system that is able to track the progression of every undergraduate relative to hundreds of markers for student success.

This system uses historical retention and graduation data from Georgia State to notify advisors at the moment a student goes off track, not three or four semesters later when the student is in a significantly worse position and much more challenged to get back on track academically.

Later this fall, our new University Advisement Center will open in the former Sun Trust tower, across Park Place from Woodruff Park.

We will, for the first time in modern history, have the ability to serve students across every college and major at a single location.

Military Learners

We also are making important changes to meet the unique needs of the military personnel coming to GSU after serving our nation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world.

Through a partnership with the U.S. government we are expanding scholarship opportunities for military learners, and we are opening a Military Resource Center to better connect our military learners with the information and services they need.

Mr. Sion New, a senior political science major and a former United States Marine Corps Sergent who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been instrumental in helping us work through the challenges that our military learners face.

Thank you Sion, for your service to GSU and your fellow students.

Increasing funding for student scholarships has been another important initiative in our student success goal.

The Georgia State University Foundation has played a major role in stimulating a real and tangible increase in scholarship funds.

The scholarship gifts brought in by the Foundation this past year include a $5M gift from the Goizueta Foundation for our Latino Leadership Pipeline program; a $1.3 million gift from the Coca-Cola Company for scholarships for first generation students and study abroad scholarships; and a pair of generous $500,000 gifts from GSU friends and alumni.

All of these gifts are making a huge difference for GSU students.

Most importantly, these and other funds have made it possible for Georgia State to more than double the number of students receiving institutional awards over the past two years.

And, the dollar amount awarded has increased by nearly 150 percent.

We are enormously grateful to everyone, the foundations, alumni, and friends, who are recognizing that GSU and its students are deserving of their support.

Kudos to Vice President Walter Massey and his team for taking our fundraising program to a new level.

Walter will tell you that my dreams are his nightmares, but he and his team are making dreams come true for our students.

Research and Economic Growth

Another exciting area of growth and development for GSU has been with regards to our research goal of Becoming a leading public research university addressing the most challenging issues of the 21st century.

The past year was a record setting year for Georgia State in sponsored research.

Our sponsored research funding increased nearly 15% over the previous year, and at 66 and a half million dollars was the highest award total in the history of the university.

In addition, GSU’s federal sponsored research award level, a particularly important barometer of our research success, accounted for 62 percent of the research portfolio, exceeding the previous high mark of 53 percent.

These increases are tangible evidence that our Georgia State faculty is becoming increasingly successful in competing for the most prestigious research funds available.

Two major recent research awards I want to draw particular attention to come from our College of Education.

Georgia State will soon house a national center for literacy and deafness — the first of its kind in the country — aimed at dramatically improving reading for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

This center will be created thanks to the hard work of Professors Amy Lederberg and Susan Easterbrooks, who secured a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Science.

Georgia State also is launching a national center for the study of adult literacy, thanks to another $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Professor Daphne Greenberg is the principal investigator on that project, and will continue to advance research on the underlying issues of adults who struggle to read.

As called for in our strategic plan, Dr. Jim Weyhenmeyer and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development are building increased capacity to better support GSU’s research enterprise as it grows to the level where we will be in the league of major research universities.

It is important that we not only support our faculty in the conduct of cutting edge research, but that we also empower them to translate research discoveries into products and companies.

To accomplish this Vice President Weyhenmeyer’s office is building the necessary infrastructure to support technology transfer and commercialization of faculty research.

At present several faculty-developed technologies are being licensed to GSU-based start-ups or industry partners.

One technology of note, developed by Professors George Pierce and Sid Crow and optioned to a major biotechnology company, has the potential to significantly impact the global fruit and vegetable trade by slowing the ripening of fruits and vegetables and thereby increasing the shelf-life or the vine ripeness of those commodities as they move from farm to table.

Even more importantly, this technology has the ability to inhibit mold growth, which could have a substantial impact on increasing the yield of stored grain used for food production.

Georgia State is committed to developing and implementing strategies to move faculty and student discoveries and intellectual property to the point where they are commercially viable and thereby help to fuel much needed economic growth.

Physical Growth

The Petit Science Center has become a source of pride for our laboratory scientists, and it is a contributing factor to our robust growth in federally sponsored research funding.

The challenge that we face with the Petit Science Center is that it is already full to capacity, and yet good and important opportunities remain for GSU to push further into areas of laboratory-based research that will address important issues of our time.

Furthermore, we have a major shortage of teaching laboratories that is severely hampering our ability to meet student demand for lab science courses, and that in turn is having a negative impact on student progress and time to degree.

We, therefore, have engaged the facilities team at the Board of Regents to develop a near-term solution to expanding the Petit Science Center to house additional research laboratory and teaching laboratory space. This expansion is of high priority because of its direct relevance to the strategic plan goals for student success and for research.

Please indulge me for a few minutes more as I mention a couple other facilities projects that are underway.

The Georgia State University Foundation recently took possession of the Sun Trust tower complex on Park Place, and is in the process of making the necessary improvements in that facility for establishing our advising center, housing large portions of the College of Arts and Sciences, and a few smaller activities.

However, the transition will not be rapid because of technical issues arising from the fact that the Foundation, not the University outright, is the legal owner of the facility.

Programs that will be moving into the building in the near term are those that can move into space pretty much “as is,” meaning they do not require major improvements or renovations.

Over time we will fully occupy the building and make it an important hub of our downtown campus life.

This past summer we also closed on the purchase of the Atlanta Life Building at the corner of Courtland Street and Auburn Avenue.

This acquisition provides GSU with a unique and cost-effective means of addressing a number of issues that have plagued the institution for years.

We will relocate our Welcome Center, Alumni Association, Honors College and the offices of the university president and vice presidents to this location.

In turn, the first floor of Dahlberg Hall will house expanded space for the Student and University Centers; and the Office of International Initiatives will consolidate its offices onto the third floor of that building.

The sum total of these moves will make the Atlanta Life building the front door of the university for visitors, and the activities moving into Dahlberg Hall will further cement the intersection of Courtland and Gilmer streets as the location for programs that are central to student life and services.

Economic Challenges and Budget

Let’s now turn our attention to the economic challenges that we have been facing since the onset of the Great Recession, and how our budget has evolved as a result.

I put the difficult news, and it is not new news to most of you, on the table first. 
Since 2008 State support for GSU has declined $49M, and with our most recent budget reduction we are now at $176 million in State funding.

These cuts are due to a $1.6B, that is billion with a “B”, decline in the State budget due to the recession and its after-effects.

The economic forces driving down State revenues are beyond our control, but managing Georgia State University’s budget is not.

Georgia State has grown considerably since 2009, and our budget has grown accordingly even as State funding has declined.

Our enrollment has grown, our research funding has grown, philanthropic contributions to the university have grown, and we have been successful in securing targeted increases in State funding for specific initiatives.

We have, and we will continue to manage to the best of our ability those factors that we can influence.

We’ve talked about student success, research success, and philanthropic success, now I want to elaborate for a moment on the point of our success in securing targeted State funding.

Specifically, for the current year we received a $9M budget increase from the Board of Regents and State Funds to support implementation of portions of our strategic plan.

Our goals are aligned with Governor Deal’s Complete College Georgia initiative, and because of our demonstrated successes Chancellor Huckaby and the Board of Regents have provided requested funding to help us further implement our plans.

Let me be clear, the increased funding of $9M does not mitigate our most recent budget cut that we are working our way through right now.

The new allocation is for implementing specific initiatives and programs.

We may not cut or stall those initiatives to absorb our budget reduction. Instead, the deans and vice presidents are working to identify changes that will realize the necessary budget savings.

Those savings cannot be at the expense of the quality of education that we deliver, and in the best possible cases they will lead to changes that will ultimately make us more successful as a university.

All of us know that the most difficult issue for faculty and staff is the fact that there has not been a general pay raise since January 1, 2009.

Georgia is not unique in this predicament, but that does not make the situation better for our dedicated and hardworking people.

I understand the fiscal challenges facing our faculty and staff, who have continued to do amazing work while pay has been stagnant.

In meetings with senior State leaders I have advocated for a pay raise program next year.

Chancellor Huckaby has advocated for a pay raise program.

While I believe that Governor Deal would like to implement a raise, I am not optimistic that we will see one enacted in the coming legislative session.

The hard reality is that Georgia’s revenues are increasing at a pace that does not match Georgia’s growing health care and other obligations.

I cannot promise miracles, but I want you to know that I am looking for ways to mitigate the problems arising from frozen salaries.

Until there is a State pay raise program, anything we do will have to be limited and targeted, but we will do what we can.

I appreciate all you do for this university, every day.

At the same time, as a university, we must continue to do more with less State funding.

And part of that is growing alternative revenues, such as research funding, philanthropic support, innovative new academic programs, public-private partnerships, and the translation of research innovations to market.

Likewise, we must continue managing our enrollments so we deliver on our commitment to prepare a better-educated Georgia and world, as well as generate the funds needed to sustain our programs that are essential to Georgia or stand out because of their distinctiveness.

We will do all of this while also being sensitive to the financial impact on our students.

I will not request any new student fees or fee changes for the coming year.

It is likely I will need to request from the Board of Regents a tuition increase, but I will do my best to keep any request for an increase modest.

Looking ahead, we will do what Georgia State has done since our founding as an evening school of commerce in downtown Atlanta 99 years ago: Provide an outstanding education that is affordable and accessible.

We will continue forging a bright future for Georgia, for Georgia State University, and we will do so responsibly.


Beginning this January, our Georgia State community will experience a once in a lifetime event, the university’s Centennial.

This 100-year milestone will provide us the opportunity to pause and reflect on Georgia State’s past, to celebrate the university’s amazing story of transformation and growth as Atlanta has grown and developed into one of our nation’s great cities, and to look to the future.

And we are going to do just that…throughout 2013.

Our centennial will not be a single even; It will be a year of celebration.

We will launch the year with two event-packed weeks beginning the week of January 13.

And, each month during 2013 the Centennial will be celebrated with a different theme.

Also, you can expect to see the Centennial logo, which appears on the screens to my right and left, on pole banners, buses and signs across campus, at select business venues around Atlanta, and in all GSU buildings.

These are just glimpses of what you can expect as part of the Georgia State University Centennial experience.

In the days ahead you will receive a campus broadcast that will link you to a new Centennial web site.

I urge you to visit it to see how you can become involved, and to mark your calendars for the events planned.

Our Centennial year will be a special time for Georgia State, so I hope that you will get involved and be part of the celebration.

As our SGA President Marcus Kernizan said in his introductory remarks, these are exciting times at Georgia State University. We are graduating record numbers of students; we are becoming a national model for student success; we are taking our research programs to new levels of accomplishment; and we are helping to fuel the economy by supporting the translation of faculty research into commercially viable products.

Ours is a university that is accelerating its momentum even as economic turmoil continues to present us with fiscal challenges.

In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we will redouble our efforts to achieve our goal of establishing Georgia State University as one of our nation’s premier urban research universities.

I thank every single person who works day in and day out to make Georgia State University the special institution that it is.

Our students are our pride, and with their success front and center in our strategic plan, our classrooms and laboratories are abuzz with energy and passion for creating the future.

Onward Georgia State, and Godspeed!