Middle Georgia to Become State University on July 1

Text of President Christopher Blake’s address to the Middle Georgia State College community following the March 18 Board of Regents vote approving university status:

On Becoming Middle Georgia State University (effective July 1, 2015)
March 19, 2015

Good morning. Yesterday, when the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia unanimously voted to promote us to being a state university effective July 1, 2015, I shared that happy news via email with our campus community with a promise of more to come in a brief address today.

I would like to begin by thanking the Board of Regents and the USG for their support and confidence through this process. Our immediate task ahead is now to prepare for July 1 and a new academic year, as we launch a new institution, Georgia’s newest university, and a new era for higher education, as Middle Georgia State University.

As we prepare, I am pleased to share that this milestone on our journey over 130 years of higher education service to the state and people of Georgia, and from consolidation to state university, holds tremendous promise for our institution, the region, and the state.

On this momentous occasion, our institution holds promise not only for our current students, faculty and staff, but for the thousands who will enter, progress, and graduate from Middle Georgia in the years to come, and the communities across this region whose quality of life will benefit from our work.

It also holds promise for the thousands who have attended and graduated from our predecessor institutions, whose accomplishments contributed to our progress and reflect well on our values. I would like to offer a few words in particular to the Class of 2015—the final graduating class of Middle Georgia State College.

You, your families, your professors, and the administrative staff here have shepherded us to this point in our trajectory. Your graduation this May as our concluding college class will be an historic moment and I encourage you to remain involved as alumni for the rest of your lives. In fact, consider this your official invitation to join us for our first university homecoming in September 2015.

Today, we stand at the culmination of all that has been since our inception in 1884 and the threshold of what is to come. The moment at which we find ourselves is one we will view through the prism of history—one that will be remembered in 100 years.

Technically, our change in status results from the approval of our first graduate program. As a result of yesterday’s decision by the Board, we will begin offering a Master of Science in Information Technology in Fall 2015. It will be the first of many opportunities for professionals to obtain a graduate education at Middle Georgia State University.

That our first master’s degree will be in IT is fitting because Information Technology was the first bachelor’s degree offered by Macon State College, one of the forerunners of the current institution.

Our proposal for a Master of Science in Nursing is currently under review by the University System of Georgia. Designed to meet the acute care needs of the region in adult gerontology, we aim to begin the program, if approved, in Fall 2015. Graduates of that program would be eligible to take the certification exam to become a nurse practitioner.

Additionally, we intend to propose two further graduate programs next year—one in Business and another in Education—to commence in the Fall of 2016. Our proposals stem from a careful analysis of the needs in the Middle Georgia region.

While those graduate programs are essential, and I extend my congratulations to our School of IT on yesterday’s vote, graduate programs alone do not make a university. What makes a university is thinking differently, doing more, and holding ourselves accountable for deeper relationships, stronger performance, and better results.

Our new university mission statement, also approved yesterday by the Regents, previously approved by our Faculty Senate and itself a product of collaboration in our Strategic Planning Committee, states it succinctly:

“Middle Georgia State University educates and graduates inspired, lifelong learners whose scholarship and careers enhance the region through professional leadership, innovative partnerships and community engagement.”

What does that mean for Middle Georgia? Aside from graduate programs, being a state university means several things.

It means faculty and students better engaged in scholarship and research—we are here because of our academic excellence, which now will move higher still. Building on strengths such as our applied research in cybersecurity and in aviation, we will expand opportunities for scholarship and innovation. The very heart of a university, indeed its brand, is built on its academic reputation.

Secondly, it means obtaining more diverse sources of funding—as our Foundation prepares to begin a capital campaign, we will seek new grant-funding opportunities from public and private sources, continue forging innovative partnerships, and more efficient and sustainable ways of doing business will strengthen our financial position.

It also means stronger community partnerships—we will reach out in new ways to partner across the region in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, serving the public good while creating opportunities for our students to learn, to lead, and to have real-life experience in internships, service learning, and volunteerism.

It means more professional focus and strong governance—from higher standards for our employees to a new Staff Council to service and leadership initiatives for students and faculty, all will have a voice in shaping our future.

It means more pathways to success and lifelong learning for students—from internships for undergraduates to data-driven advising to post-baccalaureate opportunities online, in the classroom and outside the classroom, talented students in all stages of post-secondary learning will find a home here.

It means greater institutional pride, ethos, and brand clarity—we will build on our core values, strengthen alumni relations with our first homecoming this fall, and finally have a permanent brand identity after a long period of transition. A new institutional logo, displayed behind me and previewed across our campuses starting today, has been adopted and will be put fully into use by July 1 when university status becomes official.

While we have been working on many of these things for quite some time, and have had the kinds of successes that earned the confidence of the Board of Regents. But, the task ahead is both daunting and uplifting. There will be—as there are in all transitions—tough days ahead. Today we celebrate, tomorrow we work.

Change is not a painless process, but it is absolutely inescapable. Our hope, our vision of transformation, is that we change for the better, and that we lead the change, we are not led by it.

In the coming months our university status will continue to evolve, as the Board of Regents benchmarks our admissions and tuition standards in accordance with the state university sector. Our proposals, that the Board will review, will maintain strong dedication to access and affordability, to ensure maximum opportunity for new and returning students at all levels.

For instance, to ease the financial impact on undergraduate students, we will ask the Regents for permission to phase in state university tuition rates over a multi-year period. Graduate tuition rates, which will take effect in the fall, for the master’s in IT will be set later this spring.

Beyond affordability, our academic excellence and the relationships our students build with our faculty and one another will remain Middle Georgia’s value proposition. Relationships require both access and playing to our strengths. Student success and graduation will be the ties that bind our campuses and programs together, and build our academic reputation through the excellence of our alumni graduates.

We look forward to building distinctive signature programs at each of our campuses in Cochran, Dublin, Eastman, Macon, and Warner Robins. There, lifelong learners will find opportunities to earn credentials at each stage of their careers across our service area.

We will expand online offerings, too. We will strengthen academic support for student success on all campuses, and ensure that whether a student is 18 or 58 years of age, MGA will be a place of learning opportunity and growth.

Once Middle Georgia is a university, entering students pursuing bachelor’s or master’s degrees must meet the USG’s admissions standards for a state university. For traditional freshmen, that will require a higher SAT or ACT score.

Historically, the former institution has provided access to thousands of college students, whose tremendous potential may not have been reflected on standardized tests or who did not take the well-worn path to success in college. Yet, they succeeded and we will not now abandon our tradition of opening doors to students who show promise.

Rather, for those traditional students who need to begin their journey with us in a certificate or associate’s degree program, a new University College—located on our Cochran Campus—will provide intentional focused academic support in a residential setting. Not only will students in our University College have access to targeted advising and tutoring and support, but they will be learning on a beautiful campus that is also home to our four-year athletics program, new Greek life as of this fall, and a newly constructed social space for students to gather. Rooted in that setting, if they continue on to a baccalaureate degree, they will have strong relationships and experiences on which to build.

As a driver of student success, the quality of student experiences and engagement will continue to grow across our campuses. For example, the intercollegiate soccer teams—while continuing to live in the Cochran Campus dorms—will begin playing home games in Macon. Fraternities and sororities, while housed on the Cochran Campus, will be available for membership to students across the institution.

A new shuttle service has begun between our Eastman and Cochran campuses. We are reaching out to students interested in dual enrollment at each of our campuses. And we are expanding study abroad opportunities. I’m pleased to announce that I will soon be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Northampton in the UK.

These are just some examples of how each of our campuses will be empowered and tasked to develop in new student-supportive ways.

In short, we will give the communities in which we are located reason to engage with us, whether by rooting for our Middle Georgia Knights, allowing us to create pathways for the professional development of their employees, supporting the Middle Georgia State Foundation, offering our students internships, hiring our graduates, or partnering with us on addressing the challenges our communities face.

We need each person involved at MGA—whether as a faculty member, a staff member, a student, an alumni, or a member of our broader community—to bring their best to the table. We will continue to seek your engagement, not only through internal processes like finalizing our Strategic Plan, continuing to gather ideas through Open Office Hours and the President’s Greatness Dropbox, but with new ways of communicating digitally on InsideMGA and in-person at town hall meetings across all campuses this coming fall.

Earlier this academic year, when I was officially inaugurated as your first permanent President, I spoke of the “idea of a university.” Cardinal John Henry Newman, who coined that phrase in the 19th Century, understood that an institution of higher learning worthy of the name of “university” is a place of both intellectual growth, and also profound human relationships where virtues of wisdom, compassion and betterment prevail as much as utilitarian knowledge.

Those virtues cannot be done alone. They require a plurality of voices—not a static idea or a single mold to which everyone must conform. We benefit from diversity of background, of life experience, of future hopes.

As we bring those diverging views and hopes together, we must be agreeable even if not in agreement. As Aristotle put it, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I am pleased that our new university logo and brand—which was developed with the input of current student leaders, prospective students within the region, faculty and staff—maintains an image of the torch of learning. Not only does it build on our current identity, but it calls to mind the words of Aristotle’s professor, Plato, who said, “Those having torches will pass them onto others.”

All of us in this room and across our five campuses have Middle Georgia’s torch. As we move forward together, I encourage each of us to do all we can to make it burn brighter than ever. Thank you for all you do and will continue to do to fulfill our mission, our promise and our calling–shortly, as Middle Georgia State University.