Dr. Richard Franza, the new dean of Augusta University’s James M. Hull College of Business plans to run the school like, well, a business.
And at this business, the “customers” are not the college’s 800 students.
“They’re the product,” said Franza, who joined the university Feb. 1. “Our customers are the business community and the state of Georgia, and we’re going to do the things that businesses and the state need from us to provide products to the workforce.”
“We have a customer service obligation to students, but they’re not the customer,” he said.
If higher education is a seesaw between personal enrichment and learning the skills needed to become employable, the 57-year-old educator makes no bones about wanting to tip the Hull College’s teeter-totter toward workforce development.
“Sometimes we get a little high and mighty in higher education, and talk about providing this lifelong education – which is true – but for a majority of students who come through higher education, we’ve got to make them employable,” said Franza, who was previously senior associate dean at Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business. “If we’re attractive to businesses, we’ll be attractive to students and their parents because they’ll be employable.”
Franza succeeds Dr. Mark Thompson, who had served as interim dean since since replacing Dr. Marc Miller in 2015. Thompson, now an associate dean, serves as one of Franza’s four administrative staffers.
Making the Hull College the “business school for business” is just one of Franza’s four long-term goals for the college. First and foremost is developing its cyber programs.
The Hull College, one of nine at the 10,000-student university, is not only home to the university’s Cyber Institute, but will have a hand in operating the future $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center at the AU Riverfront Campus on behalf of the Georgia Technology Authority.
Franza said part of strengthening AU’s cyber education is to not duplicate what other institutions are doing. The Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, is better equipped to focus on cyber product development and prevention, whereas AU programs are more naturally geared toward cyber-response operations and health care-related cybersecurity because of the natural synergies with Fort Gordon, and the region’s large health care sector.
As an applied mathematics major with experience on classified Air Force research programs, Franza has special insight into the the type of work going on in the cyber community at Fort Gordon, which is home to Army Cyber Command and a National Security Agency cryptologic center.
“He has a real appreciation for what our military is and does,” Dr. Gretchen Caughman, AU’s provost said when Franza was selected for the position in November. “And I think that will be to our advantage as we continue to grow our relationship with Fort Gordon.”
Collaborating with other University System of Georgia institutions is another of Franza priorities. Instead of trying to match Georgia Tech and Georgia State University’s investments in data analytics – a key component in any cyber program – Franza said AU should be trying to partner instead of duplicate.
“Our job is responsible stewardship,” Franza said. “If I’m doing something redundant here, I’m just wasting taxpayer money, including my own. We want to be an additive player, not a duplicative player. We’re all on the same team.”
The total number of U.S. campuses has grown by nine percent since 2007, but overall enrollment has fallen from its peak in 2010. Under Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, the state has had one of the most aggressive and high-profile consolidation programs in the nation. AU itself is the product of a 2012 merger between the former Augusta State University and the former Georgia Health Sciences University, while KSU, Franza’s former employer, absorbed Southern Polytechnic State University in 2015.
One area in which AU has the opportunity to become a leader is health care management, given the sheer number of metro Augusta’s hospitals, which include the campus-affiliated Augusta University Medical Center, which serves as the hub of the university’s Health Sciences Campus downtown. Franza’s faculty already teach three of courses in the College of Allied Health Science’s informatics program.
“I’d like to be the business school for health care management,” said Franza, who is working with some of the school’s 30 faculty members with health care experience – including Thompson, Catherine Slade and Kevin Cain – to lay the groundwork for a concentration program that could eventually evolve into a full-fledged degree.
“We’re going to have to make some hires in this area,” Franza said.
He said he’d like to explore adding concentrations to some of the school’s undergraduate degrees that are “generic and not distinctive.”
Franza had been with Kennesaw State since 2002, during which time its enrollment increased from 14,000 students to 35,000. About one-third of the growth was the Southern Polytechnic merger, but the rest was from a natural increase in student population. The university also had three presidents during Franza’s last nine months there.
Dealing with rapid transition makes him well-suited for AU, which is still coalescing from the merger of a mostly undergraduate liberal arts university with a mostly graduate-level health sciences and research institution.
“I’m a product of good timing,” Franza said. “Is this place perfect? By no means, but much of the hiccups and angst of consolidation are behind us. We have cultural differences I think, but I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think they were on their way to being fixed.”
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org