Message from Chancellor Sonny Perdue to all staff members in the University System of Georgia.
We are in the heart of fall semester, and I see the hard work you do on all our campuses during my visits across the state. You have been very busy, and I’m grateful for what you do to support our students and keep USG on a steady course to being the nation’s best university system. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I want to say I’m grateful for the hard work of our system faculty, staff, and students. We have much to be thankful for!
I’ve promised to stay in touch, and today I want to share several updates about projects and initiatives that are underway across the system.
First, we have something big to celebrate.
I’m excited to let you know enrollment has climbed to a new record high of 344,392 students, according to USG’s Fall 2023 Semester Enrollment Report. This represents a 3% (9,993 students) increase over Fall 2022 and reverses the enrollment declines USG saw in 2021 and 2022. Numbers are up across all four sectors within the system, with comprehensive universities up the most by numbers (3,294) and state colleges up the most by percent (5%). This success represents your work and the work of staff and faculty across the state, and we appreciate everything you do on behalf of our students!
The University System of Georgia recently collaborated with the Technical College System and Georgia Student Finance Commission on an initiative called Georgia MATCH which Governor Kemp announced last month. This Initiative is one of the largest state-run direct admissions initiatives in the nation. Its aim is to reach high school students who, as they enter their senior year, may not be aware that they already qualify for college. Over 120,000 high school seniors will receive a letter telling them at which USG and TCSG campuses they’re already eligible for direct admission, while providing information on next steps to claim their spot.
This allows Georgia to reach more students who may be on the fence about college or who think it’s out of reach.
I hope you’ve heard me talk about students being our #1 customers. So, I’d also like to share why the system recently revised its Core Curriculum to better help students understand why they take these courses and how they relate to their careers.
We often see students lose steam when they realize just how many core classes they must take before they can fully explore their field of interest. The revised version outlines what is being called Core IMPACTS. It still ensures all students in the system acquire essential knowledge in foundational academic areas, while connecting career-ready competencies critical for success in the workforce.
So, what does this look like? With the aim of helping students progress toward their desired major and eventually graduation, the changes ease the transfer process for those who choose to move from one USG institution to another. Most significantly, to make the Core more relevant to students, we’re moving away from the “alphabet soup” of the old curriculum (area A1, A2, B, etc.) to more meaningful terminology.
For example, the newly termed “Citizenship” area imparts specific learning outcomes to help students prepare for their responsibilities as engaged citizens and builds career-ready competencies in critical thinking, intercultural competence and persuasion. What we hope these changes do is connect our faculty’s passion for their subject areas with students’ understanding of why that knowledge is fundamental in any domain. In so many words, students need to see the Core as not just subject matter, but as preparation for a productive and fulfilling life.
I also want to share more about USG’s revised strategic plan. The development of what we’re calling USG’s Strategic Plan 2029 began early this year. We got together a group of institutional presidents to take a good look at the system’s progress on the previous plan and develop a new vision statement, core values, goals and associated initiatives and metrics.
The Presidential Working Group recommended USG continue to focus on the previous strategic plan’s goals of student success, responsible stewardship, economic competitiveness and community impact while updating initiatives and enhancing the metrics we use to track our progress. The group’s recommendations were presented and discussed at the Board of Regents annual planning retreat held in March. The final plan, including metric targets, was presented and formally approved by the board in August and went into effect on Sept. 1.
The specific goals, initiatives, and metrics can be found on our USG website at https://www.usg.edu/strategic_plan/. You all hopefully know by now how much I love data, so it shouldn’t surprise you that this site includes links to robust data dashboards that allow you to drill down into the metrics and see the progress in each area. There’s ongoing work as well, as our Leadership and Institutional Development team works with system-office staff and campus leaders to collaborate on implementing and aligning the plan initiatives.
Academic freedom and free speech remain critical on all campuses. The Board of Regents earlier this year recommitted the system by releasing a statement of principles regarding academic freedom and freedom of expression. Among other things, these principles affirm that USG strongly values the diversity of intellectual thought and expression among students and faculty as well as the need for faculty to be unburdened by ideological tests, affirmations and oaths. It also affirms the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom from the American Association of University Professors.
Updated board policies are now active to align with these principles. Why do I believe this is so important? Higher education is a place where people – young people particularly – come to realize that not everybody brings their same life perspective. That's the real essence of our national motto of e pluribus unum. It means out of many, one.
We all come from many different directions, different life experiences, and we come into a place like a college campus, and we listen to one another. We realize that the experiences you had growing up in your environment were different from mine. What shaped your beliefs is different than mine.
In the end, your story is just as important as my story – it just happens to be yours and mine is mine. We want universities and colleges to be places where you can get kind of uncomfortable that way because not everybody is going to believe and think just the same way you do.
We want that to be done in a spirit of free expression. I call it bilateral expression. What does that mean? That means both sides, think of it as the left and the right, have a right to express their opinion in that way. I think when we get into trouble is when we have situations where an institution – whether here in Georgia or nationally – allows one rather than the other in that regard.
People should feel free to be expressive with their First Amendment rights on our campuses without being shouted down or called out. It's really a matter of mutual respect and civil discourse. I think young people need to learn these principles in higher education. You, as staff and leaders on campus, help set that tone and make these expectations part of institutional culture. We want those principles to be paramount here because we cannot learn from one another if we don't listen to one another.
Preparations are well underway for the start of the legislative session on Jan. 8. We will know that month what Governor Kemp will recommend for our budget priorities as well as for the state. I have had productive conversations with the governor and legislative leaders, and USG’s budget submission includes a request to restore the $66 million that was cut from our budget for this current fiscal year. I am confident they understand the impact of those cuts on our campuses.
Regardless, I’m proud to work in a public university system that puts students first. Everyone on campus is responsible for the recruitment and retention of students – and everyone on campus can make a difference in a student’s life. The staff set the atmosphere for all of our students and that makes all of you our best recruiters.
We all, me included, have a responsibility to be welcoming to students and make them feel at home. That includes removing as many barriers as possible to them achieving their goals. You never know what a student is feeling at any given time, and just that little bit of extra help can make such a big difference. Without it, they may decide college isn’t for them because they don’t have any support at home or maybe even the financial resources.
In our daily roles on campus, if we see a student who needs help, please know no matter what you do on campus, you can make such a big impact. Just think about how a college degree helps that student and their family for generations to come.
Thank you for your service to the system and Georgia, and here’s to a great academic year.