In his annual State of the University address, Azziz outlined ambitious plans to expand programs, sports and especially student enrollment and research despite challenges.
More than 550 people packed a large auditorium and an overflow room to hear his first address since Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University officially consolidated to become GRU.
“I think all of you would agree we hit the ground running on Jan. 8,” Azziz said. He acknowledged the difficulty of blending two different cultures and took time to honor achievements of both, including ASU’s back-to-back NCAA Division I golf championships.
Although it is important “to honor and maintain the traditions and the histories of our institutions, our colleges, our peoples,” Azziz said, “we also must learn to build new traditions, new stories as we create the GRU community.”
One key to that success will be “strategic student enrollment growth,” Azziz said, which the university plans to mushroom from about 8,800 for spring semester to 18,500. Another is to compete for top-tier students with a combination of new programs and scholarships, he said. For instance, the school plans to begin this fall a bachelor of science to medical doctor program, he said.
“As a benefit of our consolidation, we are able now to offer new joint-degree programs to our students,” Azziz said.
Those programs are popular and become “a game-changer for the quality of the students that you recruit into those programs,” said Dr. Paul M. Wallach, the vice dean of academic affairs at MCG. “This type of a program attracts a top-tier student who comes out of high school academically excellent and knows they want to go into medicine. The advantage for the student coming to GRU, now in a consolidated university, is that the medical school is actually engaged in the program.”
Other undergraduate degree programs are beginning, from computer system information management, such as cybersecurity and app development, to degrees in anthropology and ecology, Azziz said.
“Each of these degree programs provides an exciting academic opportunity for our students and are areas in high demand for employment over the next decade,” he said.
Recruitment will also be enhanced by new presidential scholarships for “high potential” students, and MCG will benefit from the $66 million gift from the estate of Dr. J. Harold Harrison that will create an endowment to fund scholarships for MCG students enrolled in Augusta and endowed faculty chairs in Augusta.
“It would also attract people who tend to go elsewhere because they would get full scholarships from other institutions,” Azziz said. “The best and the brightest would often go elsewhere because they’re not funded.”
In addition to the record-setting gift, MCG and the rest of GRU will benefit from $64 million in special funding approved in the most recent budget, which Gov. Nathan Deal will sign in Augusta on May 7, Azziz said.
That includes $45 million to help fund a new cancer research building, $10 million to fund cancer research and $4.6 million for other initiatives, including expanding the faculty at the College of Dental Medicine to handle increased enrollment, he said.