University System of Georgia

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Portch Says University System “Never Been Stronger”

Atlanta — November 13, 2001

In his final “State of the System” address delivered today, Chancellor Stephen R. Portch informed the “the University System of Georgia has never been better. It is stronger than at any point in its 70-year history”.

“We have the highest SAT scores ever, we have the most students ever,” Portch stated. “This is the best class in the System’s history.”

The chancellor cited that the final Semester Enrollment Report for fall 2001 reflects 217,546 students – the highest headcount enrollment ever recorded in the University System’s history. The new record represents a 5.7 percent increase over last fall’s enrollment of 205,878, and far surpasses the System’s previous all-time-high of 206,484 students, originally set in fall 1995.

The System also recorded an impressive 6.1 percent increase in the number of credit hours taken in Fall 2001. This represents a continuing recovery from a decline during the conversion to the semester calendar.

Highlighting the Admissions Policy Direction as the “cornerstone” of his tenure as chancellor, Portch also took pride in the record-high average SAT scores being reported, which moved from 994 in fall 1995 to 1,026 in fall 2001. In addition, traditional freshmen enrollment in System-required remedial courses (learning support) dropped from 27 percent in fall 1995 to 15 percent this fall. Portch said these achievements are the result of the Board’s 1995 decision to impose higher admissions requirements on Georgia students - requirements implemented throughout the System this fall.

“Some doubted our collective resolve to carry this critical policy through,” he stated. “They said we would ‘blink.’ But this board recognized that higher admissions requirements were essential if we were ever going to make real progress toward our goal of creating a more educated Georgia. You didn’t back down, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your commitment.”

Portch singled out three areas of progress during his administration which he feels are critical to the System’s continued success: distinctive missions for each of the 34 institutions, semester conversion, and speaking with one voice as a university system. “These three points of progress must be maintained,” he said. “The Board’s resolve on raising admission standards, preventing mission creep and a disciplined legislative approach may well be tested during a transition.”

Portch also made an uncharacteristic editorial commentary regarding the need for a new governance structure for the state Department of Education. “I feel compelled to address the dysfunctional system that has K-12 led by an elected official – the state superintendent – yet with a board appointed by a Governor.

“My comments are not about personalities, nor politics,” Portch emphasized. “I feel free to make them since the office will be open in 2002. My comments are about basic management and leadership 101.”

He recommended that the issue be placed before Georgia citizens. “The people of Georgia need to address this issue because education must be non-partisan,” Portch said. “Education should be connected. This can truly only be possible if the heads of all three state education agencies, (Department of Education and Department of Technical and Adult Education) have authority based from similar sources. In all three cases, the board should select its CEO…Education policy takes longer than any political term to show results.”

Portch noted that the question of an appointed superintendent had twice before been put before the voters, first in 1984 and again in 1988. “Now is the time to revisit this issue,” he stated. “Let’s at least put it on the public agenda table.”

Portch also cited four others issues which deserve the state’s attention:

  • Georgia’s stunning deficit in post-secondary participation;
  • Georgia’s “anti-intellectual culture” and how it hinders the ’ efforts;
  • Georgia’s responsibility to ensure equity of opportunity for educational participation; and
  • Georgia’s need for the state to continue its investment in higher education.

Georgia had the fourth-largest numeric increase (1.7 million people) and the sixth-largest percentage increase (26.4 percent) in population over the last decade, doubling the national average. The number of children in Georgia jumped by 25 percent, the number of Hispanics by 300 percent, and Georgia has more than doubled the national average of African-American residents (28.7 percent versus 12.3 percent). But Portch said “we should not allow the increase in raw student numbers to mask Georgia’s low participation rate.”

“While Georgia’s enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools was up 23 percent between 1990 and 1999, the percentage of public high-school graduates increased only 11 percent…And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that barely half the children entering ninth grade in Georgia earn a regular diploma four years later - giving the state the worst high-school graduation rate in the nation.”

“Let’s not fuzzy this fact,” Portch emphasized. “We have a debilitating drop-out rate.”

“A high-school graduation rate that isn’t keeping with growing enrollments indicates that we cannot afford to step back from our activist, leadership role,” Portch said.

Portch strongly defended the University System’s successful pursuit of quality over the past several years, drawing attention to the detractors who attempted to deflate those efforts. “There are those who would settle for the way things used to be. There are those who, frankly, don’t believe we should strive to be among the very best,” he stated. “They are purveyors of mediocrity. They are the voices that are blind to the tyranny of low expectations…That’s the faint-hearted, defeatist, anti-intellectual attitude that - if unchallenged - can condemn this state.”

Portch ended his address by paraphrasing former Georgia Gov. Carl Sanders, who insisted on a superior law school at the University of Georgia: “The people of Georgia want and deserve nothing short of the best. The University System of Georgia, then, must be of such excellence that no citizen of Georgia need ever leave this state because a superior education is available elsewhere.”

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