Second Annual State of the University Address


State of the University Address

Dr. Christopher Blake

January 12, 2017


Good morning, and thank you for being here.

Last year, one of the new traditions we began as a university was to gather mid-year to asses our progress. As we move forward together toward our goals, it is important to stop and evaluate where we are, both in terms of challenges we are still facing and accomplishments to date.

This morning, I will share with you some mid-year highlights important to our stakeholders, including:

  • student success,
  • faculty engagement,
  • community outreach,
  • key programs,
  • our budget, and
  • enrollment.

Important Stakeholders

As our students returned to the classroom on Monday, our lawmakers returned to Atlanta for the 2017 legislative session. Both of these stakeholder groups matter a great deal for the life of the university. The latter, obviously control the state appropriations that account for much of our budget.

The former, our students, are the very reason we exist as a public university. It is our students’ progress with which we are entrusted.

In fact, in the first BOR meeting over which he presided, Chancellor Steve Wrigley emphasized yesterday that his #1 priority is Complete College Georgia—our students’ progression and graduation, not merely enrollment. And I am pleased to share with you that our work on our students’ behalf is well underway.

Student Success

A new programming model for Student Life is being piloted across campus and our first Student Leadership Conference will be held next month on February 10. In addition, plans for an institutional Diversity and Inclusion Conference are underway.

Our coaches and faculty continue to work with our athletic Knights as we strive to make Middle Georgia State an NAIA 5-Star Champions of Character institution. For instance, 54 of our athletes—nearly a third of them—made the President’s List or Dean’s List for Fall semester.

And it is not only our athletes that are excelling inside and outside the classroom. Students in our School of Business took first and third place in a statewide Internal Audit Case Competition. Students in our School of IT won second place in Georgia State’s Hackathon 2.0.

We have increased the visibility of our International Programs, with: 20 students slated to study abroad in Europe this year, a new service learning program to the Dominican Republic set to launch in May, and our first group of exchange students coming to Middle Georgia from the University of Northampton in the UK this summer.

Faculty Engagement

Behind each of these accomplishments and opportunities are faces of dedicated faculty and staff. Our faculty are not only teaching, advising, and mentoring, they are engaging increasingly in scholarship and creativity.

In fact, our faculty have published 10 books and articles, presented at 16 conferences, given a dozen invited talks and four performances, and secured four grants this past semester. Their scholarly activity and accomplishments open up new avenues for our students to take learning to the next level, which is at the core of what it means to be a university.

Through our Quality Enhancement Pan, Knowledge@Work, students can participate in internships, research, and service that provides the kind of experience employers value. Nearly 1 in 4 of our Fall 2016 graduates earned experiential learning honors, and we currently have more than 750 active students in our Knowledge@Work pipeline.

My personal vision is that all of our students will graduate having had real-life experience outside the classroom during their time at Middle Georgia State.

Strategic Plan Progress

When faculty and staff last gathered across all campuses, we announced the initiatives that we would undertake in our second year as a university. Half-way through this academic year, as the Provost reported in our latest Strategic Plan Update just before Christmas, all of our initiatives are in progress.

In fact, our metrics—the way we track the student successes and faculty engagement I’ve just described—indicate that a handful of our 2016-17 initiatives are already completed and more than half are at least 50% of the way to fulfillment.

For more detailed data on our Strategic Plan progress, I encourage you to visit our website at

Adaptability in Action

Some of the initiatives we undertook this year changed due to circumstances entirely outside our control. For instance, our Office of Human Resources developed and communicated a plan to implement imminent changes to overtime classification under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), but an 11th hour court decision has placed those changes on hold at the federal level, affecting all colleges and universities across the country.

It is in circumstances such as those that our value of Adaptability becomes crucial. Preparation allowed us to navigate the changed scenario. We are now working with the University System to determine how best to handle classification changes in light of regulatory uncertainty.

Common Good

Another initiative we undertook this year extends beyond the university to address a pressing state need—helping veterans and military families transition into Georgia’s workforce. In August, we launched the Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource Center, or VECTR for short.

Located minutes from our Warner Robins Campus, VECTR is a collaboration of the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia, providing Georgia’s veterans, transitioning military and their immediate family members career counseling, educational coaching, workforce training and connections to resources. This includes our new partnership with the United Way to bring Mission United to Georgia. Since opening its doors, VECTR has provided services to more than 3,300 veterans, service members, and their families.

Working for the common good is part of our mission as a state university. In a state that is home to more than 750,000 veterans—and more than 110,000 active duty, reserve, and guard members—VECTR is a key example of why this matters and how we can partner with colleagues in higher education, government, and community to do it well and to keep doing it better.

Paired with other community outreach efforts, such as being a presenting sponsor of the Macon Film Festival, a partner of the Museum of Aviation’s Education Center, and having a seat at the table with economic development initiatives in Dublin, we are making a tangible, measurable difference in our communities and in the state of Georgia.

Taking Flight

Partnerships also bolster our academic endeavors, including those programs that make us stand out. As the only four-year school of aviation in Georgia, we have placed special emphasis on growing our footprint through a strategic plan to take Middle Georgia State aviation across the state.

During the 2016 legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly allocated $4.2 million for phase one of that plan. This funding was used to purchase five new aircraft, two helicopters, two flight simulators and provided funding for construction of new hangars on the Eastman campus.

I am pleased to report that Governor Deal’s draft budget, unveiled yesterday, includes another $2.8 million for Middle Georgia State aviation expansion.

As part of phase one, we became the fixed based operator for the Macon Downtown Airport—where we are currently offering flight classes—and discussions are underway with Delta Airlines and Falcon Aviation Academy for an expansion to the north.

The plan for the additional $2.8 million I mentioned is to fund phase two of the plan—which would result in an expansion into South Georgia in the Valdosta area. Its proximity to the Florida Panhandle and the decision by the University System to allow us to offer in-state tuition to students from neighboring states in aviation would give our institution reach into a new market.

Investment by and in Our People

In all of our initiatives, the support of our faculty and staff has been vital to these successes. A primary example is our annual campaign. The Middle Georgia State University Faculty-Staff Campaign was a huge success, raising $83,610—an 8.8% increase over the previous year.

As importantly as the dollars, a total of 448 faculty and staff—nearly two thirds of us—participated, an 8.5% increase over the previous year. I cannot overstate our appreciation for a generous faculty and staff who continue not only to support the university, but to work hard on our students’ behalf with limited resources.

Since actions matter as much as words, the Investment in Faculty and Staff Working Group will have its recommendations to me by April 1. The Working Group, consisting of eight faculty and seven staff members along with our Executive Director of HR, began its work in October and is tasked with helping us address the results of the employee Climate Survey completed last spring.

While our finances will necessarily affect what we do and how much we can do to invest in our people, what I can commit to is transparency and creativity in empowering you to serve our students to the best of your ability.

Financial Reality

On finances, before we departed for the holiday break, our Executive VP for Finance and Operations gave us a budget update. She shared that for this fiscal year, tuition and fee revenue for Summer and Fall semesters stabilized and we are on budget for our expenditures.

While this news was reassuring, she also shared that to meet our Spring revenue targets, enrollment for this semester would need to be approximately 7,340 students. As of this morning, we are approximately 3% below that number.

Although we are pleased that we will not need to engage in across the board cuts, the shortfall as of today does mean fewer special projects for the next six months. The coming months will also be a time for us to determine where to focus our efforts and a time of advocacy for the university.

Not only will we be meeting with legislators to seek their support, but we will participate in our University System budget hearing in about two weeks’ time. There, we will address a number of pressing issues, including our tuition strategy in light of our new university mission with access function.

We are one of four University System institutions with a blended mission. That means we have an official designation from the BOR to pursue our university mission, while retaining the access function on which this institution was built.

Reason to Hope

While enrollment figures reflect that retention of first year students is flat, our recruitment efforts give us reason to hope. More students are expressing interest in Middle Georgia State.

For calendar year 2016, we had over 2,500 guests attend campus tours—800 of them were prospective students, and others were their family members.

In our efforts at continuous improvement, we began offering Saturday tours on the Cochran and Macon campuses. Just three weekend tours this Fall brought some 250 people to campus.

Admissions is also seeing early interest from students for Fall 2017. Year-to-date, we have 8% more applications and 20% more admitted students than we did last year.

We also broke an Admissions record this fall with the most applications ever received in one month.  We broke the one-thousand mark—with 1,046 applications received in November for Fall 2017.

Moreover, the number of dually-enrolled commuter students increased by nearly 20% in Fall 2016. These are successful students, 90% of whom received a final grade of A or B for their fall courses. Their experience at Middle Georgia State builds our educational reputation.

The reputation we are building together will matter critically. And, we are seeing this not only with respect to recruitment, but with support from our community.

During this year’s campaign, total support from MGA Alumni saw a sharp increase, raising $121,587 compared to $80,392 in 2015—a 51.2% jump over last year. The total number of donors increased as well, with nearly 70 more individual donors in 2016 than in 2015—a 4.4% increase.

Continued Growth

Our alumni ranks continue to grow, with nearly 500 students who graduated from Middle Georgia State University this past semester. Among those who walked the stage were our first Master’s Degree recipients—a fact showcased by Chancellor Steve Wrigley in his remarks yesterday to the Board of Regents.

Their MSIT credential is not only valuable because today’s highest paying jobs often require a graduate degree, but because of the quality of education they received at our School of IT—which was recently named a National Center of Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the US Department of Homeland Security.

In the coming months, upon approval by our accreditors at SACS Commission on Colleges, we will begin offering two more graduate programs—the Master of Science in Management and the Master of Arts in Teaching.

SACS Report

At the same time that SACS is reviewing our additional graduate offerings, our institutional Monitoring Report on Institutional Effectiveness will be submitted to the Commission on Colleges in April.

As you may recall, SACS came to campus for our reaffirmation visit in Fall of 2015. The area they identified as needing improvement was Institutional Effectiveness—that is, how well we document what we are doing, how well we are doing it, and what we are learning as an organization.

In the upcoming report, we must demonstrate our progress in this area to avoid further monitoring. To that end, it is imperative that all departments—both academic and administrative—provide our Vice Provost for Quality any outstanding assessment reports and data immediately, so that he may complete his work.

I urge you to bear in mind the importance of not only doing great work, but reporting on it. This is true not only for SACS reporting purposes, but in our day-to-day interactions as a community of learners.

As we move forward on projects and initiatives, success depends not only on each of us doing our respective parts well, but on communicating with one another. We must daily ask ourselves, who else needs to know about this? We must view ourselves as channels of information, not as terminals of information.

A Time of Consequences

As I begin my fourth year at Middle Georgia State University, I reflect on the tremendous amount of change our institution has undergone in a relatively short amount of time. While some of that change has come from the outside, much of the positive change has been self-directed.

I am proud of and grateful for the dedicated faculty and staff who have led that change. We have worked hard to both live our core values, and teach them to our students.

As we enter this next period of growth, I would encourage us to take a lesson from our best, most creative and most ambitious students. Look to the students who overcome obstacles to reach their goals—the he students who chart a new course for their lives, a path built more on grit than on privilege.

I encourage each of you to take charge of the responsibilities with which you are entrusted, to act on your best instincts, to engage your colleagues and our students. Take hold of your area of expertise and self-direct it toward our collective goals, rather than waiting for specific instructions or ideal circumstances.

Put simply, I challenge all of us to innovate and to hold ourselves accountable for that innovation and its results.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Our mission is not an easy one. Our enrollment, financial, and regulatory realities often can seem stark. Yet, by most every measure, we are making progress.

Progress is not always linear. There are often setbacks laced with essential lessons, or forward marches that do not proceed at the anticipated pace.

In the face of challenges, we would do well to take to heart the now oft-imitated “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan first publicized by the British Ministry of Information in the summer of 1939. At that time, victory was not assured, but resolve was vital.

In our efforts to be a force for transformation in Middle Georgia, have that resolve and that commitment and we will succeed.

Comments Welcome

Thank you all for coming or tuning in this morning. While Q&A from the audience would be impractical, given how many of our colleagues and students may be watching via livestream or recording, I do want to hear from you.

I will continue my office hours this semester, with the first two sessions scheduled over the next week—in Macon this afternoon from 2:30-4:30 and in Cochran next Wednesday, January 18 from 10am to noon. I also urge you to email me with ideas.

Again, thank you for all you do to make Middle Georgia State University an inspiring place to work, to learn, and to live!