State of the University 2013

State of the University Address
Mark P. Becker, President, Georgia State University
October 2, 2013

Thank you, Andrew, for that thoughtful introduction, and thank you for all you and your leadership team are doing to serve Georgia State University. We are fortunate to have dedicated students like you who are willing to invest their talents, time and energy in the service of the greater good. Our Georgia State community is indebted to you.

This year holds special significance because we are celebrating Georgia State’s Centennial. As we reflect upon our progress toward the goals outlined in our strategic plan, to celebrate particularly impressive successes of the year gone by and to explore plans for the future, we do so recognizing we are building on 100 years of higher education here in downtown Atlanta.

For a century, Georgia State has been changing and adapting to meet the needs of Georgia and the metro Atlanta region. We are a very different university than we were a century ago, and even very different than we were 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago.

And yet through all the change that has taken place, from an all-white, all-male student body to one of the most diverse universities in America today; from the development of an evening school of commerce into a comprehensive research university; from a purely commuter campus to one with more than 4,100 beds in our residential inventory, an essential feature of Georgia State remains constant.

That is, Georgia State is a destination of choice for hardworking students who aspire to improve themselves, their opportunities for professional growth and their communities. For 100 years Georgia State has adapted and grown to better serve its students and society.

Info graphic: Student Graduation Rates are up from 32% in 2003 to 53% in 2012It is fitting that I begin this year’s State of the University address by looking at our progress toward the first goal in our strategic plan: Student Success. With the unanimous adoption of the strategic plan by the University Senate in January 2011 we set our sights on becoming a national model for undergraduate education by demonstrating that students from all backgrounds can achieve academic and career success at high rates. That was a tall order. The longer standing goal of improving graduation rates had been raised to another level, an ambitious level of achieving success that would be nationally recognized for its significance. The importance of this goal cannot be overstated.

While it appears there are very few issues our elected officials in the Democratic and Republican parties agree on, the college completion agenda is shared across party lines. President Obama has set the goal that by 2020 “America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” and Governor Deal has committed Georgia to the Complete College America agenda through his Complete College Georgia initiative. Both the President and the Governor believe we need to get to the point where at least 60% of our adult population is college educated.

Locally, we may need to do even better. A recent report estimates that 85% of new jobs in metro Atlanta in the coming decade will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Our student success goal is not only important to our students, but also to the future of our region and our country.

Info Graphic: this chart shows that degrees conferred are up 26% since 2008 until 2012The good news I have to report is that over the past year we have made considerable progress toward our goal to become a national model demonstrating that students from all backgrounds can be successful at high rates. With the most recently graduated class we set a record of a 53% six-year graduation rate, up a staggering 21 points in only a decade, a feat we believe is unmatched by any other national university.

And the nation is taking notice. We are becoming a national model. In the past year Georgia State has garnered significant attention for our student success efforts. We have been featured in national media such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, the National Journal and National Public Radio.

Georgia State was one of six universities featured in The New America Foundation’s report entitled The Next Generation University. The Foundation used a data-driven approach to identify “universities (that) are continuing their commitment to world-class research while increasing enrollment and graduation rates.”

In addition, Georgia State officials have given invited presentations at recent national conferences hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the New York Times and Oracle Corporation.

All of this attention and interest is on top of numerous requests from universities from around the country to visit Georgia State to learn more about the model we are using to achieve meaningful results.

Inquiring minds want to know – what is Georgia State’s “secret”? There is no magic bullet, no one program or insight that has helped us to achieve success where others are trying but not attaining the same results. It is not only the exceptional breadth of our programs addressing the many issues faced by students that is moving the needle on student success. It is also their scale.

For example, this fall more than 2,000 freshmen are enrolled in Freshmen Learning Communities. Our innovative Keep HOPE Alive program has helped to improve student retention of HOPE scholarships from 49% in 2008 to 75% in 2012 – amazing! And Peer Tutoring helps 9,000 students annually in selected courses where a large percentage of students have struggled traditionally, a win-win program for the tutors and the students benefitting from the tutoring.

Georgia State is becoming a national model. We have real and tangible progress toward accomplishing our ambitious student success goal. More important, we are helping our students to succeed at levels never before seen in our history. Five years ago we conferred 5,800 degrees.  This past year we topped a record 7,500.

Info Graphic: This chart shows research finding increases are up from 55 million in fiscal year 2011 to 71.2 million in fiscal year 2013Our strategic plan also calls for Georgia State to “become a leading public research university addressing the most challenging issues of the 21st century.” Since the adoption of the strategic plan considerable effort has gone into implementing specific initiatives mentioned in the plan, such as establishing university-level research centers, enhancing the infrastructure to support research and focused investments in faculty such as the Second Century Initiative to build on established strengths and interdisciplinary collaborations to reach new levels of achievement and impact. We are now seeing the fruits of those initiatives and investments.

For the fiscal year that concluded on June 30th, FY 2013, Georgia State’s sponsored research funding surpassed 71 million dollars, handily topping last year’s 66.5 million dollars and setting a university record. We are a long way from the conclusion of the current fiscal year and Georgia State is off to an impressive start with new research grant awards.

We have just completed the first quarter of the new fiscal year, and already more than 27.5 million dollars has been awarded to Georgia State. This is nearly a 15 percent increase over last year.

There is one award that particularly stands out, and that is the recent 19-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health to our School of Public Health to establish a Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science. This is the largest grant in Georgia State history. Dr. Michael Eriksen, dean of our School of Public Health and a world leader in tobacco cessation research and policy, is the lead investigator on the grant. The center will look at how consumers react to tobacco marketing and how they perceive the health risks of new products. It is a partnership with the University of Illinois – Chicago and RTI International. I applaud Dean Eriksen for the terrific work he and his team are and will be doing. They are engaging in research that is addressing one of the major issues of our day.

There is no doubt that Georgia State is rising in recognition for excellence. Whether it is increased funding for faculty research and scholarship in an extremely competitive funding environment, continuing strong national rankings for a number of our undergraduate and graduate degree programs, or the considerable attention being bestowed upon our student success initiatives, all of this recognition matters to all of us, and in many ways.

One area where we clearly are seeing a substantial positive benefit to the recognition the university has been receiving has been with philanthropy. More people are giving to help support our faculty, students and programs, and they are giving significantly more money.

During the past fiscal year, Georgia State raised more than 38.3 million dollars. That’s more than a 70 percent increase over the preceding year, and by far the most private money raised in one year in the history of our university. That is amazing progress, and we are grateful to all of our supporters for investing in our vision, our plans, programs and initiatives, and, most important, our people.

People give money to people, not to ideas, and it is the faculty, staff and students of Georgia State who are inspiring others to support the university.

Georgia State’s Centennial year has been a good one. I’d even say an outstanding year. Record applications, a record freshman class, record enrollments, record graduation rate, record number of degrees conferred, record funding for research and record fundraising.  We’ve set many records, and the university has considerable positive momentum.

As we enter our second century it’s time to build on that momentum and continue our impressive progress toward establishing Georgia State as a premier urban research university. We will continue to invest in our students, staff, faculty and programs.

A new initiative I am particularly pleased to announce today is the forthcoming launch of the Georgia State Institute for Biomedical Sciences. This institute evolves from that part of the strategic plan that recommended enhanced contributions to the sciences, health and medical education. This institute will be dedicated to advancing biomedical research that improves human health. It will also educate and train future generations of leading biomedical scientists and health professionals.

The institute’s key assets will include the university’s existing strengths in inflammation, immunity and infection, microbial pathogenesis, oncology, and therapeutics and diagnostics. These are areas where we have made strategic investments over a number of years, including through the Second Century faculty hiring initiative and through the Georgia Research Alliance. They are aligned with Georgia’s commitment to be a national hub for biomedical research and with federal and non-federal research funding priorities.

We look forward to the Institute coming online in January, with Dr. James Weyhenmeyer, vice president for research and economic development, overseeing its formation. Dr. Jian-Dong Li will be the founding director of the institute.

There also will be new initiatives this year to further promote student success, both academically and into careers. These include, for example, exploring and experimenting with new uses of adaptive learning models to improve student learning. We will also become the first university in the nation to employ a comprehensive set of analytics to predict when our students are financially at risk, and we will explore innovative ways to help before it is too late.

We have recently announced the addition of cooperative education programs for students in the Computer Science and Computer Information Systems degree programs. The addition of cooperative education provides an outstanding opportunity for students to gain valuable work experience and earn money to help finance their educations while pursuing their degrees. The program is being launched in these two related fields, and work is underway to add other degree programs. Interested students, faculty and staff should reach out to Dr. Robin Morris, associate provost for strategic initiatives, to explore the possibilities for specific programs.

Continuing along the vein of helping students make the transition from college to their careers, today I am announcing an initiative to assist students who aspire to be among the next generation of entrepreneurs who will start the companies that will drive Atlanta’s future economic growth. Capitalizing on the success of the Russell International Center for Entrepreneurship in our J. Mack Robinson College of Business, a team of faculty will develop a new university-wide track within the bachelor’s of interdisciplinary studies program that will assist students in translating their ideas and ambitions into companies. Over time some of those ideas will take root and blossom into innovative companies that will shape our economy and employ thousands of workers. The details of the program will be announced later this academic year.

The introduction of cooperative education and campus-wide entrepreneurship programs are important additions to advance Georgia State in being an integral part of the future development of our region. In recent years there has been considerable work by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce to promote an ecosystem supporting innovation and growth among the industry clusters that are the major employers and economic engines for our region–industry clusters such as logistics, biosciences, financial technology, health information technology, digital content, media and film, wireless mobility, and internet and network security. Building on the work of the Chamber and its members, we have the opportunity to better position Georgia State students to be innovators and leaders in our region for generations to come.

All across our university, from the arts and the humanities, to the sciences, policy and the professions, students, staff and faculty are doing great work. They are learning, pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and making important contributions to advancing our city, state, nation and world.

We have terrific people to do this work, but we also need world-class facilities in which to do it. So let’s turn our attention to the continued development of Georgia State’s physical presence in downtown Atlanta. We are transforming our physical presence into a truly engaging urban university campus.

Exterior picture of Centennial Hall a 5 story building with a glass atriumIn August, we opened 100 Auburn Avenue at the corner of Auburn and Courtland streets. Formerly the home of Atlanta Life Financial Group, it now houses our state-of-the-art Welcome Center. This new facility will go a long way in helping prospective students and their families understand and appreciate the incredible educational opportunity available at Georgia State. The building also houses the Honors College on its second floor and by next semester will house the university administration. We are in the process of renaming this building Centennial Hall, a particularly fitting name for this addition at 100 Auburn Avenue.

The university foundation recently purchased 55 Park Place, across Auburn Avenue from 25 Park Place, where various functions of student advising and the College of Arts and Sciences have been housed since that building came on line about a year ago. The 55 Park Place building will help create an academic corridor along Woodruff Park and will be the future home for the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.

This building will provide the Andrew Young School and Robinson College with much needed and improved space to address current and future needs as the university continues to grow. We are indebted to the Georgia State University Foundation for making this incredible acquisition possible.

The artist concept of the front of the new college of law building.  This seven story building features modern lines and floor to ceiling glass windows.Last month, we had nearly 500 people, including Mayor Kasim Reed, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby and Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston, join us as we broke ground on our new College of Law building. With generous support from donors and a 58.8-million-dollar appropriation from the State of Georgia we are able to begin construction of the long planned for home of our law school. The eventual move from the Urban Life building will allow the university to re-allocate space for important needs such as the growing School of Public Health, the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions, and the Department of Psychology. The new law school facility will be at the corner of Park Place and John Wesley Dobbs, and we’re looking forward to a ribbon cutting in 2015.

And this winter we will break ground on the construction of a new building adjacent to the Petit Science Center to accommodate our rapidly expanding research portfolio in the biomedical and health sciences. We anticipate a ribbon cutting for the opening of that building, also in 2015.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce a forthcoming campus construction project that will transform the Georgia State campus experience for generations to come. Together, our acquisition of property and construction of new facilities are critical and essential factors in the development of Georgia State and the revitalization of downtown Atlanta. The additions of 25 Park Place, 55 Park Place and the new Law School construction solidify Georgia State’s presence on Woodruff Park and close to Peachtree Street.

The narrow street view from Hurt Plaza to Kell Hall.  A single lane road with multi-story brick building.The Atlanta streetcar project will further enhance development throughout and around Georgia State when it comes online next year. But none of these additions addresses a significant shortcoming of our campus, too much density and concrete and not enough green and open space. That needs to change, and it will in the foreseeable future. We’re all familiar with this (see right). We are looking toward Kell Hall from Hurt Plaza. We have a lot of density – not to mention concrete – in this area.

Artist concept of open green way with modern low buildings exposing more sky

But in just a few short years, it will look something like this (see left). This park-like area will connect Woodruff Park through campus to the courtyard that will lie at the center of the research complex anchored by the Petit Science Center. It may also be possible to connect this greenway to Hurt Park and to the Suttles Child Development Center. We need green space at the core of our campus. To achieve this vision for lawns and public areas that will for the first time give our university community inviting andattractive areas in the center of campus we will have to remove Kell Hall and parts of at least two other buildings. All of this is being planned for, and it will be worth it. This plan will transform our campus and make it an even better environment to work and learn in.

Map of new greenwayAs I said earlier, our people are doing great work to advance this university, and soon our campus will be a great place to support that work, and to further fuel the resurgence of downtown Atlanta.

Georgia State University is on the rise. We know it, and now people around the country, observers of higher education, members of the media and others, have recognized it, too. Our students are better prepared than ever to succeed in a world that very much looks like our student body. Our research portfolio and private giving are breaking records. And our campus is changing in dramatic ways to meet the needs of our students and our community.

Our strategic plan has been the blueprint for our success, and I am proud to say—thanks to the work of so many of you—we are making enormous and rapid progress in implementing that plan. This is a time to celebrate Georgia State’s first century and a time to take pride in what we have done to build off that legacy and take our university to new heights. Thank you for all that you do for Georgia State and the contributions to our success you make every day. Because of all of you, our future looks brighter than it has in 100 years.