UGA planning efforts dominated by financial challenges

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Improving research and health programs while finding new funding sources to offset flagging tax revenue will be the University of Georgia's focus during the next decade.

More than 30 faculty, administrators, other employees and students will be meeting in the next year to craft a new strategic plan for the university that will set goals and guide policy through 2020.

The worst economy in 70 years will be the backdrop for the discussion.

"The budget climate the past 10 years has been challenging, to say the least," said crop and soil sciences professor Bill Vencill, the committee's chairman. "This is our second major recession since 2000."

The state cut funding for the University System of Georgia by $238 million for the current fiscal year and $275 million for the year beginning July 1, and the economy is not projected to begin improving until early 2010. State officials say they are committed to protecting higher-education funding as much as possible through the recession.

State money makes up only about a third of UGA's funding - the rest is grants, tuition and private donations - and committee members said they will increasingly have to turn to those other sources to achieve the university's goals.

"We've had good state support in the past, and we hope that will be there, but we've got to be creative," plant pathologist and committee member Ronald Walcott said.

Since 2000, when the last strategic plan was written, progress has been satisfactory across the board, but UGA could have done more to improve its research programs, particularly in fields like infectious diseases, biofuels, crops and farming techniques that will become more important as the world gets more crowded, Vencill said.

The 2000 strategic plan committee set a goal of rising from 86th to 50th in the amount of federal research money UGA draws, the statistic college administrators most commonly use to measure their research departments.

Instead, UGA briefly dropped out of the top 100 and ranked 94th in 2007.

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