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Huckaby: “We are making the right decisions for students and the state”

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Atlanta — January 15, 2014

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University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby
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The need to help more students afford and earn a degree is driving key and fundamental changes in the University System of Georgia, said Chancellor Hank Huckaby in remarks today to the Georgia General Assembly’s Joint Appropriations Committee.

Citing the need to restructure public higher education to work more effectively and efficiently, Hucakby told the legislators: “It is hypocritical to talk about the “new normal” for public higher education, yet continue to do everything the same old way while expecting different results.”

Consequently, Huckaby’s tenure has been driven by a frank assessment and key changes in how the state’s 31 public colleges and universities are structured and operate as he works to make the University System more student-centered.

Driving the need to change is a global reality – labor surveys indicate that in the near future, two-thirds of the working age population will need some level of post-secondary credential to compete for jobs. Georgia’s education agencies are engaged in a collaborative effort to increase college completion rates from the current level of 42 percent of the population to 60 percent.

“We are making some decisions that are not easy or comfortable, but they are the right decisions for our students and the State of Georgia,” Huckaby said.

Huckaby detailed some of these decisions and changes that are either complete or in progress, including institutional consolidation, a study of how facilities are used and proposed, and an assessment of the effectiveness of degree programs that could lead to the termination of unproductive programs.

Other measures include the use of online education, a tougher and more rigorous approach to K-12 teacher preparation, an increased focus on supporting economic development and greater outreach to military personnel.

While these changes are designed to spend money more wisely and effectively in serving the System’s more than 309,000 students, Huckaby said it’s also important to focus on what directly affects the pocketbooks of students and families: tuition and fees.

“On every campus I visit a student will share the challenges of staying in school with higher tuition and fees, which may be exacerbated by a job loss at home,” he said. “Sadly, in many cases, a few hundred dollars will make the difference as to whether that student stays in school.”

Huckaby noted that since becoming chancellor in July 2011, the Board of Regents for the past two years has limited tuition for most students to the lowest increase in a decade (2.5 percent) and reduced the number of mandatory fee increases from 67 in Fiscal Year 2012 to just 29 in the current fiscal year.

The System also is undertaking vigorous efforts to address the cost of textbooks and working both internally and with other higher education partners nationally to develop and provide alternatives to students, he said. In one example mentioned by Huckaby, a program is saving students $100 on an electronic history textbook.

The consolidation of eight institutions into four new ones is complete and another consolidation of two institutions is underway. Huckaby said consolidation is driven by the need to keep the focus on the legitimate needs of students and faculty. “That is the ultimate purpose of consolidation – move money out of administration and into the classroom,” he said.

Online education is another fast developing and changing tool that can help broaden access and potentially control costs for students. Since 2009, the number of online courses offered by USG institutions has risen from 1,571 to 4,737, an increase of 200 percent.

In one example cited by Huckaby, Georgia Tech is launching a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) graduate degree program in computational science that will save students two-thirds of the cost of a traditional degree.

As part of the System’s efforts to increase the college level attainment of Georgians, a focus on military outreach is occurring at both the System and institutional level.

“We’ve established a director of Military Affairs in the System Office and our schools are working to expand on-campus, on base, and online programs to better serve our military citizens,” Huckaby said. “For example, our ‘Soldiers2Scholars’ program has helped to establish military outreach centers on 22 of our campuses.”

Increasing college completion rates under the umbrella of Gov. Nathan Deal’s “Complete College Georgia” initiative means more than just having more individuals enroll in college and earn degrees. Huckaby said if the pipeline of high school graduates ready for college is to increase, then the University System must examine its key role in preparing teachers for K-12.

“Statistics show that more than 50 percent of Georgia’s public school teachers are graduates of one of our 22 teacher education programs,” Huckaby said. “We may very well be part of the problem.”

Instead, Huckaby is focused on solutions, in partnership with the Department of Education and the Professional Standards Commission. Underway is a professional and objective evaluation of all of the University System’s teacher education programs.

“This evaluation will have consequences; ultimately the graduates of those programs who do not perform at a high level will not receive a teaching certificate and the teacher education programs in our institutions graduating those students will not be allowed to continue,” Huckaby said.

Concluding his presentation, Huckaby stressed that creating a more efficient and effective system that better serves students and creates a more informed and educated citizenry for the state is a challenge, but also a great opportunity.

“We are not ignoring our challenges. We are tackling them,” said Huckaby. “We are reshaping public higher education in Georgia. We are not finished. But with your help, we will finish.”

The Joint Appropriations Committee is hearing presentations this week from various state agencies on Gov. Nathan Deal’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget recommendations.

For the full text of Huckaby’s remarks, visit: http://www.usg.edu/chancellor/speeches/joint_appropriations_presentation

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