Meredith Delivers State of the System Address
Speech Outlines System’s Recent Achievements, Future Challenges
Atlanta — February 2, 2005
As the University System of Georgia prepares to turn the corner from “some very challenging budget years,” Chancellor Thomas C. Meredith used his annual State of the System address today to highlight significant accomplishments that have both strengthened the state’s 34 public colleges and universities and driven the board to exhibit national leadership on key higher education issues.
Addressing the monthly meeting of the Board of Regents, Meredith recapped key strides made by the University System during the past 12 months in fulfilling the central themes of his administration: maintaining and enhancing academic programs and efforts, preserving access and quality, and operating more efficiently and effectively. Accountability was one of the central threads running through Meredith’s report and he outlined the System’s progress in serving as good stewards of state dollars as well as developing programs to improve performance on key accountability measures.
“We have made significant progress in these areas, so much so that on a number of higher education issues, today Georgia is viewed as a national model,” Meredith stated. The System’s rise in national prominence, the chancellor said, is rooted in the Board of Regents’ adherence to long-range thinking and planning. “Because of the Statewide Assessment we conducted,” Meredith said, “we have initiated a mission review process that has the potential to change the face of the System. This will enable us to better meet the evolving demands and needs of Georgia in the 2005 to 2015 period.”
A major development that emanated from that assessment is the Board of Regents’ plan to convert the Gwinnett University Center to a permanent institution. “Proof of the wisdom of this (planning) process can be found in your request to the General Assembly to authorize the creation in Gwinnett County of the System’s first new four-year institution in 30 years,” Meredith stated. The campus, if approved by the legislature, is expected to help the Board of Regents meet burgeoning student demand anticipated over the next 10 years, particularly in metro Atlanta.
The USG reported record high enrollment in fall 2004 of 250,659 students – the third straight year of record enrollment growth. The average SAT scores of entering freshmen also increased 6 points last fall, to an average score of 1,042, again surpassing the national average. Student retention also improved, another quality indicator reflecting the number of USG students who return as sophomores after completing their freshmen year. “We have focused on retention over the past several years.” said Meredith, “This focus, in combination with better-prepared students, has led to a record high 81 percent System-wide retention rate.”
Meredith would like to see improved performance in the six-year graduation rates of USG institutions, which is 54 percent System wide. Among the USG achievements attracting national attention, Meredith cited the appointment and resulting report of a special Graduation Task Force he empanelled in 2004. “Last January we were one of the first systems in the country to appoint a graduation rate task force,” Meredith said. “Implementation of its recommendations is underway. It’s the focus we should have – on our educational outcomes. “
Meredith also cited another national leadership role the USG had assumed, in tackling the costs of student textbooks. “I am pleased to announce that we will be holding a series of statewide forums on textbooks costs,” Meredith stated. “These forums should attract national attention, as this has become a national issue with the heightened interest of Congress. Georgia is among the leaders looking at this issue.” Three forums are slated statewide throughout February at USG campuses.
Other major issues addressed by the regents’ during the past year include the formal relationship with foundations and the issue of presidential pay, improved audit reports for USG institutions, targeted programs to help provide both access and preparation for college, and the innovative construction of facilities. These specific accomplishments were among those highlighted by Meredith:
- The Board’s ability to maintain Georgia’s historic position as a low tuition state, despite budget cuts.
- A National Science Foundation $34.6 million grant awarded to the University System to strengthen math and science programs in 13 Georgia school districts through the Partnership for Reform in Science and Mathematics (PRISM) project. “The results of this initiative will be watched closely nationally,” Meredith said.
- Development of the “Education Go Get It!” program to make more Georgians aware of the critical need for post-secondary education.
- The continuation of the USG’s nationally recognized African-American Male Initiative that researched the reasons behind the decline in African-American males who attend college and developed recommendations and pilot programs to begin to reverse this decline. “African-American male enrollment in the USG has grown by 9.6 percent over the past two years,” Meredith said.
- The continued responsiveness of the System in addressing emerging state workforce needs, as evidenced by the Intellectual Capital Partnership Program’s (ICAPP) Health Professionals Initiative. Meredith noted that Phase One of the initiative, launched in July 2002, produced 632 new licensed healthcare professionals, surpassing the goal of 500.
- The Board’s decisions to revise its basic memorandum of understanding with cooperative organizations and to move all presidential pay to state dollars, ending direct foundation presidential pay supplements. “This was a tough issue,” said Meredith. “This board has exhibited national leadership on an issue that permeates public higher education.”
- The use of creative public-private partnerships outside the state’s normal construction bonding program to meet facilities needs. “We have constructed more than $1 billion dollars worth of construction in 60 plus projects around the System through public-private partnerships,” Meredith said.
- The record increase in research grants and contracts to System institutions, which rose to $795 million in FY02 and $861 million in FY03.
- The creation of a “Best Practices” awards program to identify and highlight institutional programs that promote more effective and efficient operations.
- The USG’s use of technology to create new distance learning and online course and degree programs such as WebMBA, as well as what Meredith characterized as work that places Georgia “at the national forefront of educational and administrative applications of information and instructional technology.”
Meredith emphasized his gratefulness for the pending turnaround in the budget picture. “We deeply appreciate the fact that Governor Perdue has recommended a FY06 increase of 8.3 percent for the University System,” he said. “If the Governor’s budget recommendation is passed, we will be on the positive side.”
Meredith also noted the ever-increasing impact of the University System on the state’s economy, as measured in the recently released report produced by Dr. Jeff Humphreys of the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. Humphreys cited the USG’s economic impact in Fiscal Year 2004 at $9.7 billion, up from $8 billion two years ago. “Those dollars helped to create more than 106,000 jobs,” Meredith said, “both on our campuses and in many communities throughout Georgia.”