Annual “State of the System” Address
System’s Growth and Strong Support Balanced by Need to Manage Available Resources, Chancellor Says
Atlanta — January 16, 2008
Strong enrollment growth, improvement in graduation rates and a continued focus on keeping college affordable were cited as very positive signs of performance by University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. today in his annual “State of the System” address to the Board of Regents.
“The State of the System today is good when measured by a number of key indicators – public support, enrollment, retention, and graduation,” Davis said. “We are enrolling more students; we are keeping more students in college; and we are graduating more individuals to contribute to Georgia’s economic and intellectual growth.”
The creation and adoption by the board of a new Strategic Plan for the System during 2007 also was cited by the chancellor as a key accomplishment that will enable the System to “move to a higher level of performance and have this great enterprise capitalize on the power of a true system.”
But Davis also noted that while the academic mission and the faculty of the System’s 35 degree-granting institutions deserve high marks, the risk management of resources is not at the same level of quality and consequently will be an area of priority attention over the coming year. “We do excellently in spots, but, as always, we can do better overall, particularly in how we manage both our operations and the resources that have so generously flowed to us,” he said.
Consequently, Davis noted that he would continue to focus on three key areas: increasing access to college, maintaining affordability, and providing clear accountability to the public.
The System’s responsibility to meet a growing shortage of physicians to treat Georgians also will be a top priority in the coming years, Davis said.
Enrollment in the University System hit a record high of 270,022 students in fall 2007, an increase of 10,077 students from fall 2006. “That’s the equivalent of adding another Valdosta or West Georgia,” Davis said. Another important measure of the System’s ability to provide access to higher education is in the continued increase in enrollment by African Americans and Hispanics, Davis said. African-American enrollment increased by more than 5 percent from fall 2006 to fall 2007 to 65,000 students, and Hispanic enrollment jumped 13 percent over the same period, to 8,800 students.
The latest graduation report shows that 51 percent of the students who entered an institution in the System in fall 2001 graduated six years later from that institution. “This is the first year the institution-specific, six-year graduation rate has ever exceeded 50 percent,” Davis said. In terms of affordability, Davis noted that the Regent’s guaranteed tuition plan, now in its second year, has enabled Georgia to maintain its historic ranking as one of the most affordable states in the 16-member Southern Regional Education Board for public higher education tuition. Georgia’s college affordability primarily reflects the strong support for public higher education by the Governor’s office and the General Assembly, Davis noted, citing a record $2.1 billion state appropriation, along with $276 million for construction and renovation of System facilities, in the current fiscal year budget.
“This was a 10.5 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2007 and represented the largest increase in state funding for the University System in 12 years,” Davis said. “This is extraordinary when compared to many other states and systems, and we thank Gov. Sonny Perdue and the members of the General Assembly for their continuing support.”
But, Davis noted that the tremendous support for the System also means that System leaders must focus more closely on the management of those resources. “The level of resources we receive is not our primary challenge, but the major challenge is the proper and strategic use of those resources.”
Referring to audit reports that indicated abuses in use of the state purchasing card program, Davis said that System officials would be working to create “a pervasive culture of continuous improvement and thorough risk management throughout the System.” He vowed to set and meet higher levels of transparency and accountability in the management of the System’s $5.6 billion annual budget.
Davis also noted that an ongoing challenge for the System relates to Georgia’s shortage of health care professionals – particularly physicians. As plans develop to increase the training of physicians, Davis said that the issue of needing more doctors and nurses is not local, but statewide, and must be addressed with urgency. “Last year, Georgia slipped from 37th to 40th in doctors per capita,” he said.
The board heard on Tuesday a report from an outside consultant on the expansion of physician training and Davis referred to this study when he said: “We must move forward with a comprehensive, statewide plan to meet these needs, and we must move forward without delay.” In his address, Davis also noted the need to use the Strategic Plan to manage explosive enrollment growth and the System’s funding needs as well as to ensure strong competitive salaries for faculty.
February marks the beginning of Chancellor Davis’ third year on the job, during which he has overseen the continued growth in the System, the creation of the Guaranteed Tuition Plan, major revisions in financial reporting and budgeting processes, the development of the System’s new Strategic Plan, the development of a new model to set priorities for needed facilities, the creation of a System approach to meeting the state’s needs for healthcare professionals, searches for a number of institutional presidents, the launch of Georgia Gwinnett College, and an 18 percent increase in state support for the System over the past two state budget cycles.
Editor’s Note: The full text of the State of the System address can be accessed here: http://www.usg.edu/chancellor/speeches/chancellors_state_of_the_system_address/