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Update Posted January 18, 2012

Governor Deal Shines a Spotlight on the University System of Georgia

During the first week of the 2012 legislative session, Governor Nathan Deal announced through various outlets the value of public higher education in Georgia. On Tuesday, January 10, Governor Nathan Deal spoke to leaders from across the state of Georgia at the annual Georgia Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues breakfast and later in the evening delivered his annual State of the State address before the Georgia General Assembly. Governor Deal’s focus for the New Year is a more competitive state, with education at the forefront.

Over eggs, the governor delivered his message sunny side up, touting Georgia as the economic engine of the South and praising its world-class university and technical college systems.

He cited the University System’s two U. S. News and World Report “Top 25 Public Universities” rankings – Georgia Tech and University of Georgia – which makes Georgia one of five states with such a distinction. The Governor also noted that Georgia is the only state with two of the top five Smart Money magazine ranked institutions for return on investment in terms of the cost of tuition vs. median annual salaries earned upon graduation.

Deal told the early morning crowd that during the statewide hearings hosted by the Governor’s Competitiveness Council, “The business community consistently stated that education and workforce development was their top priority.” Governor Deal said that long-term prospects for economic development depend on education. Consequently, a large portion of his State of the State address later that night focused on education – Pre-K through postsecondary.

Education was woven into the theme of the State of the State address, that of exploration and “charting the course to prosperity.” Deal said, “Georgians have charged us to set a course for our state and they have defined the stars that we must follow to expand opportunity: the star of education – we must provide great schools that will cultivate the minds of our young people…. These are the stars on which our eyes must be focused as we chart the course for our great state.

“Here in Georgia, we are blessed with world-class university and technical college systems that provide opportunity to every young Georgian and provide business with a pipeline of talented workers,” the Governor remarked. He went on to commend USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby and Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) Commissioner Ron Jackson for both “performing strategic consolidation” of institutions and “delivering a better return on investment without compromising service to students” amid budget cuts during the economic downturn.

In addition, he announced two goals for higher education: first, creating a world-class, public medical university, which ranks among the top 50 nationally; and for Georgia Health Sciences University to become the states’ second National Cancer Institute designated Cancer Center. The Cancer Center designation would mean increased access to cancer research funding and a better opportunity to recruit top cancer specialists. To support this effort, Governor Deal is proposing $5 million in his budget recommendations.

Also, he is recommending that the budget include funds for 400 new residency slots in Georgia hospitals across the state. This effort is to encourage Georgia-educated medical students to stay in state. Medical students that leave Georgia to complete their residency in other states due to a lack of slots in state tend not to return to the state to practice, which does not provide value to Georgians whose taxes have helped fund their education.

Furthering his support for higher education, Governor Deal has included $72.6 million in his budget recommendation for growth in the USG. Last year, the funding formula for growth was not funded.

Closing out his speech, Governor Deal reiterated the need to fulfill the mission of charting a course that fulfills Georgians’ priorities, including providing strong, innovative schools geared for the modern marketplace.

In his State of the State, the Governor also reviewed his first year in office and his administration’s early achievements.

The Governor recounted that last year he said, “the state of the state is strong” and “that we posses a unique set of strengths.” But noted that the state also faced an “unusual and historic collection of challenges.”

Governor Deal recalled that the Rainy Day Fund had only enough money to fund less than two days of state operations and the balance today is $328 million, an increase of 183 percent. Also, a “structurally balanced” budget to fund essential services was passed, which makes Georgia one of eight states with a AAA bond rating from three major rating agencies.

He also noted that a year ago, the HOPE scholarship program was on an “unsustainable course and faced a complete depletion of reserves as early as FY 2013.” Legislation passed in 2011 preserves HOPE for future generations. 

For students who earn the HOPE scholarship, the governor’s FY2013 budget recommendation maintains the same level of tuition reimbursement as the previous year and $20 million has been recommended for the needs-based, one percent loan program.

Governor Deal said he is charting a course for the state’s new year that will “require our best collective efforts this year and beyond. And “…the first star in our constellation is education. Our schools are the front line in our effort to create prosperity. It is here we make our most strategic investment in the future!”

Posted by Sonja Roberts
Published in: Governance

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