While acknowledging deep cuts in state support and a challenging consolidation with Augusta State University, Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz nonetheless launched far-reaching goals for the university to more than double its current student body and sprout eight regional campuses across Georgia, including Atlanta.
During his annual State of the Enterprise address Thursday, Azziz ticked off a number of challenges identified early in his administration, including lack of a comprehensive university that “limited our ability to benefit from other disciplines, such as business, the humanities and liberal arts” and limiting “pipeline” programs to funnel promising students. It also “limited our ability to leverage student growth and numbers, on behalf of all students,” Azziz said.
One of the challenges was also the lack of presence in the metro Atlanta area, where half the state’s population resides and “where the state’s business is conducted,” Azziz said.
In fact, the vision for 2030 goes far beyond that, Azziz said. By then, he sees 20,000 students enrolled, while currently fewer than 10,000 total attend both universities. Program offerings will be expanded, including “an extensive online and mobile portfolio of educational offerings and formalized educational partnerships with our active military and our veterans,” he said. That will be offered on 800 acres of campus within Augusta as well as eight regional campuses “including a well-situated, well-recognized, and diverse Atlanta campus,” Azziz said. The six-year graduation rate will exceed 75 percent, he said, where ASU’s six-year rate in 2010 was 25 percent.
And the new university by then will have “Division I sports and a new sports complex,” Azziz said, where currently only the ASU men’s and women’s golf teams compete in Division I.
This growth will be funded through “lean management, operational reductions and efficiencies in those same operations,” and by “rallying our philanthropic community and finding alternative revenues through discovery and technology transfer and through improved health system performance.”
The university will have to rely less on state funding, which has been cut by $53 million since fiscal year 2010 and now comprises about 23 percent of overall support, Azziz said.
He seemed to acknowledge critics of the consolidation, particularly those who were miffed by the decision to name the new university Georgia Regents University and not University of Augusta. A compromise was reached last week to use the brand name Georgia Regents University Augusta on all materials, shirts, cups and in the logo.
“Some in our community are not yet ready or prepared to embrace and accept a strong and growing university in their midst,” Azziz said. “Nor do they fully comprehend that their success and future, and that of the city, is intimately tied to how well the university does. But I know that with time and continued education and engagement, those who oppose our progress and change will soon embrace the vision of this great American university.”
Acknowledging that change is painful, he said it was unavoidable.
“I believe that the best way to predict and control our future is to create it,” Azziz said, “which is what we are doing today. Deliberately and methodically reinventing tomorrow’s university for the citizens of our region and for the peoples of the world.”