2018 State of the University Address


State of the University Address

Dr. Christopher Blake

January 23, 2018

Good afternoon, I am delighted to welcome you to our annual State of the University Address, my fifth new year’s address to the campus community as your president. I am especially honored today to host Assistant Vice Chancellor Sharon Pope at this official opening of our new STEM learning facility here in Warner Robins, offering us the chance to provide new levels of education and training in fields at the forefront of knowledge and in demand here in Houston County and across the State.

Welcome Assistant Vice Chancellor, to you and your team from USG, and to several other distinguished guests, including: Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms; Dr. Mark Scott, Houston County Schools Superintendent and a member of our University Advisory Council; Dublin Mayor Phil Best, also a member of our University Advisory Council; private sector leaders like Houston Healthcare Chief Nursing Officer Mindy Hartley and Robins Financial CEO John Rhea; as well as our colleagues from Robins Air Force Base. We are grateful for your support of the University and for the State funds provided for this new building annex, which will serve the people of Middle Georgia ably in years to come through excellent teaching, learning and scholarship.

Middle Georgia State University has reached a milestone, a fifth birthday this month as a single consolidated institution. What amazing change we have navigated these recent years! I thank our faculty and staff and students for building a new institution, a University that is remarkable in so many ways. The most affordable in Georgia, among the first consolidated in Georgia, and with some of the widest regional and geographic footprint in Georgia. Without your leadership, skill, commitment and, yes, patience we would not be as strong and purposeful as we are today. So, at this State of the University address, let me congratulate us all on our 5th birthday, and thank you for nurturing us to this critical age.

And getting to the age of 5 is indeed important. I shared at the recent Board of Regents meeting on our Macon campus that at the age of 5 we treat children as ready to begin the long process of leaving home and embark on a journey of education, by going to school for the first time. Using that metaphor, I challenge us now to embark on a new stage as a University, to leave the security of our home and to step out in a new intentional way. What must we do to accomplish that?

Firstly, we must develop a new Strategic Plan for our journey. As we reach the end of our first Strategic Plan, “Greatness Begins Here”, we must think afresh on the vision for the future, and develop a focused plan that will give us success and strength for the coming years. Our Provost, Dr. Jon Anderson, is now tasked as Chief Academic Officer with crafting a plan in conversation with the campus community, that can deliver on our promise of professional and career education to a diverse range of academically and financially situated students. Our blended mission, to be a University with an access function, is a hard and demanding challenge, but we are honored to be one of only four institutions among Georgia’s 25 colleges and universities that is tasked by the BOR with that accolade and responsibility. So let us enthusiastically embrace and create that environment.

Next week I shall be publishing a White Paper to assist in the process of defining our emerging context and identifying the needs and priorities for a new Strategic Plan, which we shall unveil and share at our upcoming August Convocation when we start a new academic year. My white paper will set out the governing principles and the vision that we must look to on our horizon. What might those principles be?

Building on our blended status as a University with an access function, it is clear that our first priority must be to build an academic strategy across our campuses that empowers student success with clear degree opportunities and pathways to completion. This academic strategy must, like the focus of the USG’s Year of Momentum on clear pathways, be built on our students’ lives, schedules and aspirations, and not expect students to fit around ours. In short, a student-focused academic strategy built on student access and success, entailing a hybrid model of learning that encompasses both face to face and online.

We have made strides in improving our retention and graduation rates at the Baccalaureate level, with our graduation rate rising from less than 20% in 2012 to nearly 33% in 2017 and our retention rates rising from 58% to 62% in the same time period. We are not where we want to be, but we are moving in the right direction. We have created innovative Graduate programs and certificates that reflect our strengths and address market needs. Now we need a clearly understood academic strategy. By clearly articulating this strategy I believe we truly will finish out the task of consolidation properly.

This will, I am convinced, boost our enrollment. The urgent need to do this is apparent to us all. As the most affordable University in terms of tuition, it is important that we increase our enrollment volume. The Chancellor’s goal of increased efficiency and effectiveness aligns with our experiences over the past few years! We have become accomplished at doing much with little, and that realistically is the way forward for us all! We are efficient. To become more effective we must aggressively grow enrollment. And we can be proud that we have already started that task.

As of today, we have virtually eliminated the negative gap that we saw this past Fall, when we were disappointed in a 4.8% reduction in headcount and credit hour production in semester to semester comparison. Today we stand at the start of spring semester virtually identical to where we were last spring. That is an extraordinary achievement in one semester, to catch back up again, so to speak. With nearly 7,000 students here we are now able to build on a core student base.

To assist in that I announce today the creation of an Enrollment Management division, which will come together on July 1, under new leadership from outside the University. We will conduct a national search for a Vice President for Enrollment Management who will work across offices and departments to drive recruitment, admissions, on boarding and assist in retention and progression. By redeploying funds from vacant and existing positions we will be able to make this appointment without increasing new monies to the University. The effect will be to align enrollment growth—with clear intentional responsibility and leadership. We do this on the basis of a new awareness, resurgence and collective engagement with enrollment, led by the Enrollment Action Team that has already begun making immediate improvements in each of the areas our new Vice President will oversee. Now we must turn that action into strategy.

This intentionality must become a primary feature of our work for the next few years. While we have a hybrid and blended function, we cannot be all things to all people. We must highlight what we can and must do here—in Warner Robins, and on each of our campuses—with targeted resources and efforts. We must segment, select and prioritize. Which means we must make tough choices, in which some efforts and opportunities will not be sought but others will be clearly selected and focused upon. How will we do this? By a new energy and reliance on data-sharing, collaborative actions and a technology-competent environment.

This past year has seen new leadership in IR and a new sense of what we can do with technology and data. We can track progress, we can see what is working, and what needs further work. For example, this past year saw robust, shared and critical reporting among leaders across units and divisions on Monday mornings about how our enrollment was tracking for the future, and we were able to shift our resources and actions as a result. The moral here is obvious. We need to develop clear, shared and accessible forms of data to inform our strategy and decision-making. This is something others have done for years. We have begun to do it, but not yet at the stage of development for building an advanced and complex regional public university. Our next plan must address that need powerfully.

What is clear is that we will need to do this with creativity and intellect, the best resources we have. We know that our dollars will be tight for the foreseeable future. Our niche place, as Georgia’s most affordable university, means our pockets are not empty, but they are light and not deep. In this next year, because of our Fall drop in enrollment by about 4.8%, we are having to tighten our belt even more. While we can do this for another budget year, we must address our financial situation creatively. We must seek new monies through grants, now supported by a grant writer, and we must increase our support from philanthropy and contracts.

These functions, typical of a university, are now essential to supporting our operations, and I am heartened that our annual fund was the highest ever this past year with over $858K in unrestricted giving to the fund and new levels of faculty and staff participation. Thank you for enabling us to award over $350K in student scholarships and other awards. But our bread and butter financing must come from enrollment growth and the sheer volume of students we have enrolled and graduated. That will be the number one priority of us all, of my presidency, of our work, and of our upcoming strategic plan.

Until we maintain the momentum of improvement in enrollment through summer, fall and beyond that this spring’s success offers, our current financial situation is highly restrictive, and impacted by the USG decision to begin eliminating the online tuition differential and ensure that students pay the same tuition rate for both face to face and online classes. To make sure that the campus is aware and involved in the financial planning for the fiscal year FY19, I have asked our Exec VP and CBO, Nancy Stroud, and each of our Vice Presidents to conduct a series of meetings with each divisions staff and faculty, to gain input and seek advice on how best to manage our financial priorities and decisions through tight times. Many minds and voices are better than one. Please do participate when these meetings are established so your ideas and voices can shape our strategy to grow and sustain this university, intellectually, professionally and financially.

Today we stand here as an example of the can-do spirit and the belief in the Greatness of our Mission. We open this afternoon formally a new STEM wing here in Oak Hall that will for decades to come give opportunities for thousands of students to shape middle Georgia with their lives and their learning. We are doing this so robustly already. For example in this past year we have seen the first cohort of nurse practitioners graduate from our Master of Science in Nursing program, our baseball team become Conference Champions, new opportunities for life-changing study abroad that fits our students’ lifestyles and budgets, and new talent join us in key positions of academic leadership.

These example illustrate that while we are a large organization, we must be prepared to show agility and nimbleness in our work. We need a culture that lives and teaches—to our students and to ourselves—that change will happen, that we have navigated change wonderfully since consolidation, and that future change will require continued creativity and willingness to be agile as an institution and as professionals. Tomorrow’s world will demand that of us. We have that capacity and we must now build into our plan for that future world.

I look forward to us gathering again as a community in the spring to celebrate the graduating Class of 2018 and then in August at Convocation to start the new academic year. Meanwhile, I thank you for what you all do for the students of Middle Georgia State. May this be a wonderful year for you personally and professionally.

And now I am delighted to ask Assistant Vice Chancellor Sharon Pope to join me at the ribbon for the formal opening of our new STEM Wing of Oak Hall. This $5 million investment offers our students nearly 16,000 new square feet of study space, including 4 state-of-the-art labs, plus a conference room, a study area, a seminar room, and a collaborative learning room. I would like to recognize the team who brought this vision to fruition: Dallas Smith, from Construction Manager Piedmont Construction; Rowland Davidson, from Architect Lyman Davidson Dooley; and Travis Weatherly, from Project Manager Parrimore & Quinn; as well as our entire Facilities staff here at MGA and our colleagues at USG.

Oak Hall is named after the live oak in front of this building. The live oak tree is not only the state tree of Georgia, it is also a Southern symbol of strength. This ribbon cutting today is emblematic of not only our strength, but our excitement at building a more educated—and stronger—Georgia, right in the heart of this state.

Please join us after the ribbon cutting for brief tours of the space, food, and fellowship. Thank you all again for coming!