State of the University 2014

Posted On October 15, 2014
Categories Speeches

State of the University Address
Mark P. Becker, President
Georgia State University
October 15, 2014

Thank you for joining us today for Georgia State’s annual State of the University address. This is an exciting time as Georgia State continues to make considerable progress across many important dimensions, and momentum continues to build and drive toward even brighter days ahead.

As many of you will recall, our vision and the goals we are pursuing stem from the university’s strategic plan.

Goal number one in our plan is to establish a national model for undergraduate education by demonstrating that students from all backgrounds can achieve academic and career success at high rates.

I am pleased and proud to tell you today we have made enormous strides in our pursuit of this goal. Over the past year Georgia State once again set records for its graduation rate and for the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred. Graduation rates now have increased by six points since we instituted the strategic plan just three years ago. Because of the dedication and innovation of our talented faculty and staff, thousands of additional students have achieved their dream of earning a Georgia State degree.

Take a look at this short video.

While we still have ambitious goals to reach and much work ahead of us, universities and organizations across the nation are taking notice of the pioneering work we are doing to promote student success.

Last November the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, the national organization that represents more than 200 public research universities in North America, bestowed its first MVP Trailblazer award upon Georgia State for our, quote, “exceptional progress with increasing retention toward or completion of a bachelor’s degree during the last three years.”

Over the past year teams from more than 80 universities and systems have visited our campus to learn more about our student success programs and how and why they work. Our results and pace of progress greatly exceed the norms nationally so it is no surprise that numerous other universities are looking to emulate our success.

And just last month at a press conference in Washington D.C., I was honored to introduce the formation of the University Innovation Alliance, a consortium of 11 large public research universities ranging from flagships including the University of Texas and Ohio State to rising urban universities such as Arizona State and Georgia State. This alliance seeks to increase dramatically the number of college graduates by broadening who participates in a college education, and by significantly increasing the graduation rates for those groups who have historically graduated at low rates.

The data are compelling that future prosperity in the United States depends on what has come to be known as the college completion agenda. This is not a politically divisive agenda. Democrat and Republican leaders alike have made college completion a priority. President Obama has pledged to return the United States to first in the world for the percent of its citizens who hold a college degree, a position we once held, and are now not even in the Top 10.

Similarly, Governor Deal has implemented Complete College Georgia with the goal of increasing the percent of Georgians who hold college degrees to 60 percent.

While the college-completion goal is widely embraced, the challenge has been in figuring out how we achieve it. How do we succeed in graduating millions of additional students, especially students from groups that have historically struggled?

The University Innovation Alliance is one of the most significant and largest scale efforts focused on making real progress toward achieving the college completion agenda. It is universities like Georgia State, with large, economically diverse student bodies and rising graduation rates, that are going to move the needle for college completion.

The alliance is focused on developing innovative programs for student success that are proven to be cost-effective, and are adaptable to large-scale implementations in and across institutions. The work of the alliance is being supported with $5.7 million dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina, Kresge, Ford and Merkel foundations and USA Funds.

The alliance’s inaugural project will build on the pioneering work in predictive analytics at Arizona State and Georgia State. The first large-scale implementation of predictive analytics at Georgia State has been in the form of our GPS advising system.

Under the leadership of Dr. Timothy Renick, vice provost and vice president for enrollment management and student success, our GPS system uses 10 years of Georgia State data, more than two and a half million actual grades, to produce predictive analytics for how our students will do in any of the majors and courses they might choose. The system tracks all 25,000 of our undergraduate students every single day, with data elements being updated nightly. There are more than 700 different alerts in the system that can be triggered, notifying advisers when a student is going off track.

This is an example of Georgia State moving into the world of “Big Data,” but the success of GPS is about much more than big data and tracking technology. Our team of professional advisers is outstanding. They monitor the GPS system and work with the faculty to reach out to students while there is still time to get them back on course and on the path to academic success. This combination of “high tech” and “high touch” is driving our graduation rates upward and leading to more and more students graduating with a Georgia State degree.

Over the past 12 months, there have been more than 34,000 one-on-one meetings between students and advisers that were prompted by alerts from the GPS system. We’ve increased semester-to-semester retention rates by five percentage points, and fewer students are paying for unnecessary courses, courses they never finish or that don’t apply to their degree programs.

It should come as no surprise that the success we are having using predictive analytics and proactive advising interventions is the basis for the first project to be scaled by the University Innovation Alliance.

Thanks to GPS advising and other innovations you saw highlighted in the video, Georgia State students are now graduating at higher rates and earning their degrees almost half a semester earlier. We estimate that Georgia State’s Class of 2014 saved roughly $4 million in tuition and fees compared to our graduates a year earlier.

If this same innovative approach worked similarly across all 11 universities in the alliance it would prevent 19,000 students from dropping out and save graduates $200 million in tuition and fees every year. Those are the kinds of results that will be required nationally to achieve success on the college completion agenda.

It is gratifying to see that our peers nationally are taking note of the important work being done at Georgia State, but it is even more gratifying to see that now we are graduating 1,700 students more than we were graduating just a few years ago, and that the average cost of a degree is going down because we are able to help students more efficiently navigate the university on the way to graduation.

Because of the hard work of our faculty and staff, we are truly making a profound difference in the lives of our students.

Georgia State has indeed become a national model, demonstrating that students from all backgrounds can achieve success at rates higher than the national norms, and yet this is only one of a number of areas where we are making impressive progress toward accomplishing the ambitious goals in our strategic plan.

In the area of research we are bucking national trends of declining research support. In the fiscal year ended June 30 we were awarded $81.7 million in external funding, a 14 percent increase over the preceding year. This marks the third year in a row Georgia State has grown its portfolio of sponsored research, and to have done so in a time of shrinking federal support for university research is most impressive.

During the past year $58.4 million, or 71 percent, of our research funding came from federal sources. Our increases for total research funding and federal support represent new benchmarks for Georgia State. The National Institutes of Health, the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation now are our largest funding sources, and the size of awards from these agencies has been growing as teams of Georgia State researchers are beating the national averages in securing funding. The shift in the direction of larger proposals is a direct outcome of our strategic plan, and to see that strategy paying off so handsomely is most gratifying.

As you may know, Georgia State was recently mentioned on an NPR Morning Edition segment as one of the top 10 fastest-growing research universities in the country for National Institutes of Health funding. The research dollars that have been awarded from federal agencies are in themselves markers of our research accomplishments and competitiveness. But even more important, they are being invested in work that contributes to the health and well-being of people.

Just last week, Professors George Pierce and Sid Crow were profiled on local television for their work to develop a vaccine for the Ebola virus using a unique, alternative technique that differs from the traditional way vaccines are produced.

This last summer, Professor Richard Plemper and his colleagues received international recognition for their work on developing a new drug that protects against the measles virus, which is responsible for as many as 50,000 deaths a year.

And Professor Sang-Mo Kang is receiving national attention for his work on the development of universal vaccines, a completely new strategy to provide broad protection against viruses that cause these catastrophic diseases by eliminating the need to generate a new vaccine every time a virus mutates.

These faculty members are among a number of Georgia State professors who are working on new strategies that will have a profound impact on the health and well-being of people around the world.

Another area targeted in our strategic plan is increased philanthropic support for students and faculty. I am pleased to report that over the past year we have seen progress here, as well.

For the fiscal year concluded June 30 we surpassed $30 million in private giving for the second year in a row, and only the third time in the history of Georgia State.

Let me highlight just a few of the gifts made to the university over the past year to give you some idea of how philanthropic support is making a difference at our university.

Ken Lewis, a graduate of the Robinson College of Business, made a gift of $5 million for faculty excellence in the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions. The school was named in 2003 for his mother, who was a nurse. This most recent gift provides support to help take the Lewis School to the next level. Mr. Lewis is a long-time and generous supporter of the Robinson College and the Lewis School.

The Marcus Foundation awarded $2.8 million to Georgia State to support the work of Professor Walt Thompson and the After School All Stars Atlanta program. Professor Thompson is a Regents Professor in the College of Education, and the After School All Stars program he directs is a comprehensive initiative that supports thousands of middle school-aged children in Atlanta every day.

Not all gifts come from alumni or philanthropic foundations. Gifts from friends of the university, people who have no formal affiliation with us, are a true testament to the fact that the university is appreciated and valued well beyond our university community.

For example, Ed and Cecil Laird gave $2.3 million to support us in our continuing efforts to revitalize downtown and change the lives of students for the better. And Angela and Allen Giles gave $1 million to support the continued development of Georgia State Athletics.

Raising the bar on philanthropic support is making a tremendous difference in the lives of our students, faculty and staff. This support from the alumni and other members of our university community, foundations and friends provides the margin for excellence.

Across the university, faculty, students and staff are making numerous significant contributions to advancing Georgia State and to achieving the five goals articulated in our strategic plan. Over the past year we have seen progress across all five goals.

For example, students are taking advantage of more and better opportunities for international experiences. Faculty are developing new and more effective means for promoting learning. New academic programs are being developed to meet the demands of our changing society. And Georgia State is increasingly making important contributions to addressing the challenges of Atlanta and cities more generally.

All of us should be incredibly proud of our community, the faculty, staff, students, friends and alumni who are making a difference as together we are creating a new model for the urban research university of the 21st century.

The great work happening inside the university is being mirrored in physical changes taking place to and across our expanding campus. The university’s growth and the needs of our faculty, staff and students for quality facilities make it imperative we continue with the implementation of the campus master plan developed to support our strategic plan.

I am delighted to report that over the past year we have made considerable progress on plans to develop and transform the campus, and that our plans for the future are even more exciting.

Let’s start with an update on the new home for the College of Law being constructed at the corner of Park Place and John Wesley Dobbs. Construction is on schedule and we anticipate that move-in will begin this coming May.

This glass-enclosed building is architecturally impressive, but what is most important is how this facility will become a cornerstone of the legal community here in Atlanta and Georgia.

The new building will, for example, include significant space for clinics to provide legal services to the underserved and special populations. Our legal clinics are partnerships between the College of Law and other organizations, and they provide law students with valuable experiential learning opportunities as they provide services to real clients.

Starting this fall, Georgia State’s ROTC program and representatives of the State Bar of Georgia’s Military and Veterans Law Section have partnered with the College of Law to start a new clinic to assist the more than 800 veterans enrolled at the university.

In addition to the clinics, classrooms, court rooms and other spaces that are common to all law school buildings the College of Law’s new home also will include state-of-the-art space for the Atlanta Center for International Arbitration and Mediation. Atlanta is one of only a few cities in the world with a facility dedicated to this type of work and Georgia State will now be Atlanta’s hub.

A block south, along Park Place, the university recently acquired 55 Park Place with the help of the Georgia State University Foundation. With Class A space distributed over 19 floors 55 Park Place will provide a significant upgrade in facilities for the J. Mack Robinson College of Business and the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. The building’s design, with two atriums and two elevator banks, will provide the Robinson College and the Young School with distinct spaces to define and brand their respective identities.

When we gathered a year ago we had recently taken possession of 25 Park Place and were beginning the renovation and move-in process. Today, the building houses the University Advisement Center, is home to academic departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, and just last month the college’s dean’s office moved into the top two floors.

Our impressive growth in sponsored research is another area driving the development of new campus facilities. At the south end of campus we are moving forward on constructing a second tower at our science park. On December 1st, we will break ground on a five-story, $25 million building adjacent to the Petit Science Center. This facility will house our growing biomedical research program. The first scientists and their staff are expected to move in by late next year or early 2016.

You may recall that last year we used the occasion of the State of the University address to announce the eventual demolition of Kell Hall as part of a campus greenway project. Work toward that end has begun. Plans have been developed for the construction of new teaching labs and classrooms to replace and expand upon what is in Kell Hall today, and in the coming year we will be pursuing state funding to implement those plans. Should we be successful in securing that funding in the upcoming legislative session, we would expect to see the demolition of Kell Hall in the 2017-2018 time frame.

The last facilities project I will discuss today is the one I am asked about most often, literally almost every day, the possibility of Georgia State having a presence on the site that is now Turner Field.

Our proposal is for a mixed-use development done in partnership with Atlanta-based Carter and Associates, one of the country’s leading real estate investment, development and advisory firms. Georgia State would use about one-third of the land for athletic facilities and parking, and Carter would develop the remaining two-thirds with student housing, single-family housing, cafes, restaurants and stores. Our main goals are to move out of Panthersville and bring Georgia State athletics facilities to downtown, and to do so as part of a larger project that will revitalize the surrounding area and neighborhoods, much as our main campus has done for downtown.

Looking at this rendering you will see we are proposing putting a football stadium where Turner Field is today. To the north of that would be a Georgia State baseball stadium on the site that once was Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Between the two are privately built student residences, similar to the new facility at 112 Courtland. To the east would be single-family housing and retail. While the projects would work in concert, Georgia State would not be involved financially in the properties developed by Carter and Associates for other parties.

Today, all of this is conceptual. There are many variables, the Atlanta Braves organization, the Fulton County Recreation Authority, the City of Atlanta, the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia and others, that will affect what eventually happens to the site, and when.

We do know our proposal is the most compelling one that has been made public. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Furthermore, our proposal honors the history of the Atlanta Braves, Hank Aaron and the 1996 Olympic games. Most important, Georgia State would be the anchor for the site, providing a safe and well maintained presence that would breathe life into the area into the future. The housing and retail developments would help to bring vitality to our facilities and provide much-needed stimulus to the surrounding neighborhoods.

At this point I cannot tell you when the decision on the future of Turner Field will be made and announced, but when there is news I will be sure to share it with you in a timely manner.

We say it a lot these days, and it is true: This is a time of amazing transformation at Georgia State.

Building on the early successes of our strategic plan we are continuing to create new and better ways to do what is at the core of our mission, provide an outstanding education to a diverse body of students, with all of the benefits of learning from leading faculty at a modern research university.

At the same time, we are paving the way for the future.

It is clear the hard work and accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students are paying off. When U.S. News and World Report identified Georgia State last month as one of the nation’s leading up and coming universities it validated the great progress we have made and the direction we are headed.

That progress also is being recognized closer to home, right here in Georgia. This fall we have enrolled our largest freshman class ever, and for the first time in our history enrollment exceeds 32,500. The number of graduates from Georgia high schools has declined over the past couple of years, and this year we even saw a slight decline in the number of applications for the freshman class. Yet, the freshman class set a record, evidence that increasingly Georgia State is becoming a destination of choice.

What we are doing here in Atlanta is unique and special, and more and more people seeking a college education are choosing Georgia State as their number one choice in order to be a part of what is happening here.

Thank you for all you do every day for our university and the students we serve. Your commitment to Georgia State and our mission, your energy and your dedication, are central to our achievements, and they hold the promise of an even brighter future for Georgia State.

Thank you, and Godspeed.