Dr. Ricardo Azziz - 2014 State of the Enterprise

Aspiring to Greatness at GRU: How Far We Have Come and Where We Are Headed

By | April 16, 2014

Last month, I had the honor of addressing faculty, staff, and students from across the GRU enterprise to deliver the good news about where we are today and to talk about where we will go from here.

We have much to be proud of and much to look forward to, so if you missed it, please take a moment and read a summary in this blog or watch it in full.

Over the past several years, we have had to face many seminal and severe demographic, economic, regulatory, and healthcare challenges. But we have also have been fortunate to benefit from unique once-in-a lifetime opportunities: a governor focused on improving the health of his citizens; a Board of Regents that decided to pursue a strategy of consolidation; local leadership ready to embrace big ideas; new university leadership with responsibility and authority over the entire entity.

With the winds of change blowing all around us, we made a choice to harness its power and chart a new path forward … to embrace transformative change. We set our sights high. We didn’t just aim to be good, or even better. Instead, we decided to Aspire To Greatness.

We had a dream … a vision:

  • We wanted to create a top-tier university with state, national, and global relevance and impact.
  • We wanted to be a galvanizing economic engine for our community and for our state.
  • We wanted to become a destination of choice for the training and education of our next generation of learners and explorers, and
  • We wanted to be a catalyst for discovery and innovation.

But to achieve this vision we needed to first create the right infrastructure to make this future possible. In essence, we needed to transform who we were, to be able to continue to do what we do best, and do it even better, in the face of enormous and difficult challenges.

And the good news is WE DID IT! We — all of us together — weathered the rough seas of transformation … and have landed safe and healthy on the other shore.

Because of the extraordinary efforts, talents, and resilience of everyone across our campuses, we succeeded when so many others have not — and all of you deserve to take great pride in that.

You have helped bring forth four critical achievements that now set the stage to make our vision a reality:

  • First, we created an effective and integrated Academic Health Center;
  • Secondly, we successfully consolidated two separate and distinct institutions into one to create Georgia Regents University;
  • Thirdly, we implemented a shared administrative services system across our entire university and health system;
  • And last, but not least, we not only survived, but we thrived, in the face of one of the most challenging economic environments that our nation has faced in modern times, the Great Recession.

It sounds simple, but make no mistake — Many, many organizations fail in attempting to do what we have done.

Each of these efforts was monumental, and to have achieved any one of them over a short period of time would have been remarkable. But you achieved all four — through tremendous and sustained hard work.

And so you have my deepest personal appreciation and admiration for all that you have given. Please know that it is truly an honor and a privilege to work with each and every one of you.

But this rapid pace of change and transformation has meant that virtually everyone across all of our campuses has been operating on all cylinders for a significant period of time. And so many of us are fatigued, stressed … maybe even frustrated.

And this tough pace also means that all couldn’t be achieved with total perfection. There are some things we hoped could have been done more smoothly. And the fast pace required by the narrow windows of opportunity opening our way also means we’ve made mistakes — I know I’VE made mistakes.

Yet, in spite of this, your hard work has succeeded in transforming us:

  • From a much-siloed enterprise to an aligned and integrated one,
  • And from separate smaller schools into one larger broad-based research university with statewide relevance and regional and global reach.

And so now, just as there are times when we must embrace transformative change, there comes a time to focus on the long journey ahead, solidifying our gains and leveraging who we now are. And that is where we are today.

So what do we do next on that long journey?

First and foremost, we must consciously and significantly shift gears, from managing rapid transformative change to generating long-term, sustainable growth, a shift that is essential if we want to reach the greatness we aspire to.

Secondly, we must engage in thoughtful, strategic, and transparent “resource prioritization,” deciding what to focus on in alignment with the priorities outlined in our strategic plan, “Transition Forward.”

In this way, we will create a structural foundation that will fortify us to weather the storms of the future — those we know are coming and those we have yet to imagine.

To achieve this long-term vision and our strategic plan, we will, in the months ahead, focus on three key and immediate goals:

  • Enhancing student recruitment, retention, progression, and graduation. Students are at the heart of our university, so we are implementing bold and innovative programs to attract students, to enroll them, to retain them, and to graduate them — Programs that address the full range of their engagement with us.
  • Increasing faculty and staff satisfaction and retention. We are taking concrete steps to ensure that our employees — faculty and staff in all parts of our organization, university, and health system — are heard, are valued, and are respected. And most importantly, have the resources, the time, and the support to do their jobs well.
  • Ensuring our long-term fiscal sustainability. Efforts include launching our Master Campus Planning Process to create the physical capacity to serve our future needs, and deliberately and carefully growing our clinical platform, which today contributes 30 percent of our university’s budget.

Resources for our next steps will come from several key areas: resource reallocation, increased revenues from our clinical operations, increased philanthropic giving, the leveraging of our industry partnerships, increased tuition revenues, and targeted investments by agencies of our local, state and federal governments.

Let’s be clear: “Shifting gears” does not mean stopping. It simply means solidifying, strategizing, prioritizing, and executing, on the stronger and healthier platform that we have now constructed.

It means recognizing that we are in the first leg of a long-distance relay, but a critical one nonetheless, for it’s the stage in which we lay the foundation for our future.

And it also means keeping our eye on the horizon for gathering storms, while maintaining a laser-like focus on our ultimate goal, to be the Next Great American University.

For at Georgia Regents, we aspire not only to be excellent educators, not only to be world-class healers, not only to be groundbreaking discoverers.

At Georgia Regents … we Aspire to Greatness.

East Meets West at Georgia Regents University

By | March 20, 2014

Shanghai, China is almost 8,000 miles from Augusta, Ga.—literally halfway around the world.

Chinese culture is thousands of years old; the U.S will celebrate our 238th birthday this summer.

China is huge, its population approximately that of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and all of Western Europe … combined. There are 28 cities in China with populations greater than our third largest city of Chicago.

China’s $8 trillion GDP is half that of the U.S—though generated by about four times the number of people.

Whether language, religion, history, culture, or economy … we couldn’t be more different. So just imagine what we can learn from each other.

Next week, we celebrate the grand opening of the Georgia Regents University Confucius Institute, in partnership with Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SUTCM). We’re one of about 400 Confucius Institutes worldwide, one of five in Georgia, and the first in the world affiliated with a comprehensive academic health center.

We’re at the beginning of an exciting and rewarding partnership that offers tremendous opportunities for learning and enrichment for our students, faculty, physicians, and community. I’d like to take this opportunity to answer a few questions I’ve been hearing about this great new initiative.

What exactly is a Confucius Institute?

Confucius Institutes are non-profit public institutions aligned with the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education. Universities apply to the Hanban, the Institute’s headquarters in China, for approval and shared funding. While usually the application process may take years, ours was established in record time.

The Chinese government began offering Institute partnerships in 2004 in response to the rapid increase in Chinese global engagement. They recognized the world is shrinking, and in order to fully engage with the world, they began to explore ways to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges. Confucius Institutes are a result.

All Confucius Institutes have a Chinese university partner. In addition to promoting Chinese language and culture, each Confucius Institute typically identifies a goal specific to that institution. At GRU, our special focus is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and our partner institution, SUTCM, is the one of the oldest and most notable universities in China for the study of TCM, offering degrees to the PhD level.

Why Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Most of you are familiar with some elements of TCM, like acupuncture and tai chi. Originating in ancient China and evolving over thousands of years of practice, TCM takes a holistic approach to health and well being and is focused on how the mind and body work together in health and healing. The practice of TCM includes a broad range of modalities, and in the U.S. is most often used for pain management and prevention of illness.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health is very supportive of alternative medicines like TCM, and many U.S. pharmaceutical companies are researching and exploring herbal remedies used in TCM for future drug development. After all, most Western medicines are based on substances found in nature as well.

While it’s not known exactly how many people in the U.S. practice elements of TCM, estimates over the past decade number in the millions. In the West, TCM is generally treated as complementary to Western-based medicine, and is certainly not intended to supplant it. Instead it presents a tremendous opportunity to blend the best from East and West to expand our knowledge and deliver optimal health outcomes for our patients and communities.

What will the GRU Confucius Institute actually do?

Founding director, Dr. Joe Tsien, Professor of Neurology and Co-Director of the Brain and Behavior Discovery Institute at MCG, and his team from across our campuses have fantastic opportunities in the works, focused on the Institute’s two main goals: language and cultural exchange, and TCM.

  • In fall 2014, we will offer two courses taught by our own faculty and possibly a teaching assistant from our partner university—a humanities course focusing on Chinese arts and culture, and a course on the basics of TCM.
  • The College of Education will begin community-based education in the fall with a series of games developed by the COE and our IT staff that teach Chinese language and culture. The games will be provided to our 52 K-12 partner schools in the CSRA for student use on smartphones and iPads.
  • TCM courses in the College of Allied Health Sciences will initially cover basic concepts, history and case studies, and later will be expanded to include more advanced and specialized courses.
  • The GRU Confucius Institute will offer opportunities for studying and teaching abroad in China for our students and faculty, and similar exchange opportunities for those at SUTCM.
  • We will conduct clinical translational research on TCM, likely involving both human and animal studies, focusing on such topics as acupuncture, pain management and dietary management of disease. Such evidence-based research is currently lacking for TCM modalities and offers high potential value.

The GRU Confucius Institute is just getting started, and we have only begun to explore the possibilities. Over time, we envision Augusta at the center of a global distribution network for TCM throughout the world … yet one more example of GRU aspiring to greatness as we continue our journey to become the next Great American University.

 

Adding Value With Shared Services

By | February 27, 2014

In the past few years, many universities have begun to explore a model of administration frequently and successfully implemented in the corporate world, but previously rare in higher education: shared administrative services.

Simply put, a shared service is one that is used in multiple parts of an organization, but is centrally supported in one. For example, rather than have each department handle human resources services for its own employees, a central human resources office handles such services across all departments.

At GRU and GRHealth, over the past several years, we have implemented shared services across a range of functions, including Facilities, HR, IT, Communications & Marketing, Audit, Compliance & Risk Management, and Institutional Effectiveness.

Why Shared Services?

The primary driver for the shared services concept in higher education has been to increase efficiencies and thus reduce costs of administrative services across the institution. Cost reductions stem primarily from the sharing of costs across a larger platform.

However, while reduced costs can often be achieved and is an important institutional goal, I would argue that increasing value, by increasing the breadth and quality of the services provided, can be the most significant advantage an organization can—and should—reap from shared services.

A shared services structure allows for bigger units and for the recruitment of leaders with significantly greater breadth and understanding. Thus recruiting top quality leaders is a critical ingredient in realizing the potential for delivering higher quality shared services.

At the staff level, shared services present greater opportunities for professional growth and quality improvement. With a larger shared service unit, the prospects for personal and professional growth for staff are enhanced. With decentralized services, a single staff member is often the only one in the department doing a particular kind of work. With shared services, increased collaboration can lead to the fostering of greater expertise and, in turn, to higher quality results.

There are additional potential advantages to a shared services approach. Universities are generally structured as separate colleges and departments, with strong silos focused on individual performance and success. Few mechanisms or incentives exist within a university for aligning management vision and focus. Sharing administrative services can provide such a mechanism, allowing administrators—and their faculty and staff peers—to see and work together to improve the “big picture.”

Potential Pitfalls of Creating Shared Services

First, implementing a shared services approach can impact jobs. Even if plans don’t include job reductions, employees will worry about job safety as the expertise and quality required of staff in these shared units often changes or is increased, so sensitivity to employee concerns and a robust communication strategy implemented before, during, and after the transition are needed.

Second, “customers”—employees and departments who use the services—will worry about degradation of service. And justifiably: If not done well, suboptimum service may actually result, if not to all units, then to some. It is critical to recognize who the customers are and to include them in the transition process.

It’s difficult to ensure the results of such significant changes—both positive and negative—are evenly distributed across departments; it’s a near certainty that implementation will be smoother in some areas than others. The best way to mitigate inequities is two-fold: Ensure that resources are appropriately allocated according to institutional and strategic priorities. And provide for accurate measuring of results and effective feedback channels so that problems can be identified, addressed, and resolved.

Another challenge is in finding the right high-quality leaders with broad expertise and understanding of the broader community of a complex institution—in our case of a university and a health system; no easy task. Leader and mid-management recruitment for shared services units requires extra diligence and a broad net to achieve the needed skill mix.

And once shared services are implemented, clear and continuing communication around the new organizational structure is necessary to avoid or address confusion about the reporting structure.

Optional Structures for Shared Services

The shared services concept does not have to be “one size fits all;” there are several ways organizations can be structured to effectively provide services across the institution. Within GRU we use several (Figure).

models for shared administravite support systems

  • One leader/separate units: In this type of shared services structure there is a single leader governing services across the organization, but separate staffs for different departments. GRU’s Legal Affairs Office is structured this way, where there is a single overarching leader for both the university and the health system (the President/CEO, who in this case also acts as unit leader), but there are separate staffs handling legal services for each sector.
  • One leader/one unit: In this type of organization, there is one organization that provides services across all departments. GRU’s Offices of Communications & Marketing and of Advancement & Alumni Affairs are such examples, where one unit leader and one staff handle these services for both the university and the health system.
  • One leader/mixed units: Here there is one unit leader, but staff within the unit may serve the entire organization or may provide services to specific departments. At GRU, both Human Resources and Facilities are structured in this way.

For each service area, the unit leader must decide which organizational structure is best. And within each service area, no matter the structure, there will be employees who focus specifically on—and become expert in—a particular department or function.

Once shared services are implemented, clear and readily obtained metrics of success must be established and metric-driven analysis must be ongoing to ensure the highest quality of service to all customers and to identify deficiencies in either service delivery or organizational structure so they can be corrected.

Whether or not there are immediate and measurable cost savings, more robust and quality administrative service delivery across the enterprise should be the goal—and will in turn lead to better support for our students, faculty, staff, and patients.

 

 

When There Is No Magic Bullet

By | February 3, 2014

This month we kick off our Campus Master Planning effort to create a blueprint and vision for our infrastructure and campus that will guide us with a firm, but forgiving, hand in the decades to come. It will provide a clear plan so that we know not only what we should be doing, but also what we shouldn’t be doing.

In order to realize our goal to be “The Next Great American University,” we must have a clear vision of where we are going and—critically—we must align the use of our precious resources with this vision. This is what we can call “Resource Prioritization.”

But why should anyone outside of our finance and accounting offices care about resource prioritization?

To help answer this question, I’d like to share some thoughts from Robert Dickeson, President Emeritus at the University of Northern Colorado and author of the classic guide to academic program assessment, “Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services” (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999, 2010). I was fortunate to attend a presentation he gave on setting priorities at the University System of Georgia’s Presidents’ retreat in October.

Dickeson discussed a confluence of factors driving the need to prioritize spending in higher education: pressures from an underperforming economy, reduced available state and federal funds for higher education, increased demands from all stakeholders for demonstrable benefits to students and to society, the fast pace of technological advances, dramatic and accelerating demographic changes, and increased competition, including from online and distance learning.

These pressures are not expected to lessen in the foreseeable future—if anything, they are likely to become even stronger. There will be no “magic bullet,” no newly discovered source for additional needed funds—rather, as Dickeson said, “The most likely source for needed resources is reallocation of existing resources.”

And resource reallocation must align with the institution’s central, clearly defined, operational mission.

All institutions of higher education must respond to these pressures. And here, GRU’s relative youth may well work to our advantage.

Strategic Plan

Learn more about GRU’s strategic plan

Unlike most universities, we are emerging from a period of dramatic transformative change that forced us to start from scratch to define ourselves: who we are, where we’re going, and what role we intend to fill in our community, state, nation, and world.

Through months of intensive collaborative effort, we set out our university’s vision, determined our values, and described our operational mission. From there, we developed a comprehensive strategic plan, “Transition Forward,” in which we outlined six strategic priorities and further broke them down into specific organizational goals.

The effort was challenging, exhilarating, difficult, and illuminating. It involved tremendous effort from hundreds, if not thousands, of people across our campuses. We have together spent the past year implementing the strategic plan.

Having so recently and specifically defined our strategy means that we have a uniquely current and effective framework for resource prioritization. Our challenge going forward will be to appropriately align finite resources with our strategic priorities, thus ensuring the effectiveness and continuity of our strategic plan.

However, at the same time, the strategic plan was never meant to be a straightjacket. When we released “Transition Forward,” we noted that “flexibility will be important, with the plan requiring periodic assessment and reorientation, if needed.”

So we must recognize that there are initiatives and investment opportunities that do not always immediately fall into a specific strategic priority and that may, in fact, be meritorious of support. Opportunities that may require searching for alternative funding sources to support those initiatives that may not directly further a strategic priority or goal, but are important to or of interest to our mission.

Determining what a strategic priority is requires careful vetting by those responsible for leading such initiatives, and requires thoughtful shaping of detailed strategic and tactical plans by colleges, institutes, departments, and administrative support areas, emanating from “Transition Forward.” This crafting of plans should engage our community of faculty, staff, and students widely.

But assuming we know pretty clearly what our strategic priorities are, how do we operationally align resources with them? One approach that may be used is to grade initiatives and proposals using a series of clear metrics tied to the strategic plans priorities, and then assign the use of available resources according to grade. This will provide clear and transparent rationale for investments made—or not made.

Finally, regardless of the system we use, we must recognize that:

  • Resources are finite;
  • Not every faculty or staff’s immediate interest will be a strategic priority;
  • Prioritizing the use of resources requires not only being very clear on what we will do, but also being even clearer on what we will not be doing; and …
  • We just can not, should not, be everything to everybody.

As described in its introduction, GRU’s strategic plan “should not be a document pulled out and dusted off once a year, but a plan that we absorb and breathe, … a guide that shapes our hard work and budget plans as we move forward.”

And to give the plan its necessary life we must assign and allocate resources to it, while ensuring that we do not spend scarce capital on initiatives that are not core to our strategic priorities. We must keep this critical directive at the forefront of our minds as we make necessary resource allocation decisions in the coming months and years.

50 Years Later: The Civil Rights Act and the Lasting Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By | January 16, 2014

Diversity Award Featured

VP for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Kent Guion, Athletics Director Clint Bryant, and President Azziz at the presentation of the 2014 NCAA/MOAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion.

As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we can take pride in recent recognition of our own university’s commitment to the values he espoused: In the past year, GRU was recognized for promoting diversity and inclusion as the recipient of two separate and prestigious awards:

In October, “Insight Into Diversity” magazine selected GRU to receive its 2013 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award, and just this month, the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association presented GRU with the 2014 Award for Diversity and Inclusion.

Kudos to Dr. Guion and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion—and to our entire family of faculty, staff, and students who live these values every day.

Now I thought I would invite one of our own faculty experts, Dr. Perzavia Praylow, a GRU historian of the African American past, to share her thoughts on MLK’s legacy in the context of this year’s 50th Anniversary of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Please enjoy!

Before the Movement and After the Act: Historic Civil Rights Lessons
By Dr. Perzavia Praylow

Perzavia T. Praylow, Ph.D

Perzavia T. Praylow, PhD
Assistant Professor of History
Department of History, Anthropology, and Philosophy
Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

As we commemorate the life, leadership, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his call for social equality in our nation, we will find ourselves again asking whether Dr. King’s dream for a more just society has been achieved. As a history professor at Georgia Regents University, I find it useful to reflect on this question in the context of the lengthy struggle for civil rights in the history of our nation.

This semester, on the first day of classes as I welcomed and introduced my students to History 2112: American History Since Reconstruction, I posed this important question to them, “What is the relationship between citizenship and social equality in our nation’s history?” I usually adopt such a thematic question to bring a consistent intellectual focus to my lectures and student-led discussions.

The thematic focus this spring recognizes the 50th Anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Together my students and I are on a journey to understand the relationship between citizenship and civil rights at critical historical junctures including Independence, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

This past week we focused on slavery, reconstruction and emancipation with lively discussions in three areas: the relationship between our Constitution and social equality throughout our history, the relationship between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement, and the role of government in shaping legal and social equality. In our conversations, we have sought to understand the historical roots of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

One of the most sweeping pieces of Civil Rights legislation since the Reconstruction decade, this landmark act was both a product of the social discontent of the 1960s and an evolution of historic efforts to bridge the relationship between citizenship and social and legal equality in the United States.

A century earlier, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 guaranteed citizenship and rights to all males “without distinction of race, color or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.” A few years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 specifically outlawed discrimination in public facilities and accommodations for all Americans.

However, the Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to be unconstitutional. It took almost one hundred years of activism to reclaim the earlier progress towards social and civic equality achieved in these two 19th-century laws.

By the 1950s, decades of struggle against social and legal discrimination—accompanied by regular and repeated instances of violence—reached a tipping point. People were ready for a leader, and they found one in Dr. King. Then, during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the early ‘60s, President John F. Kennedy used a nationally televised address to encourage our nation to support equal treatment for all Americans.

The ultimate result was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It overturned more than 60 years of racial segregation laws in place since the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision declared “separate but equal” in segregated public accommodations and facilities to be legal.

In the 50 years since its passage, the law has been applied to prevent discrimination in voting, housing, employment, and other sectors of our society. Coupled with the 1954 and 1955 Brown v. Board of Education decisions, it also ended racial segregation in public education.

How we understand the history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both before and after its passage, as I have shared with my students, is rooted in how we fundamentally understand citizenship and social equality in our nation’s past. As a historian of the African American past, I believe the meaning of the Civil Rights Act(s) in the context of the African American experience can best be understood in W.E.B. Du Bois’ prophetic words that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”

In his seminal work, “The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois discusses the important challenge that the nation faced in integrating African Americans into our society after Emancipation. Indeed, as I have been known to say to my students, we lived longer as a nation under slavery than we have as a nation under the experiment of integration. The legacy of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 50 years later, is that it challenges our nation to move beyond barriers of discrimination so that we may each more fully experience “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” within our present context.

Each of us, in our work and within the institutions and organizations to which we are connected, can—and must—play a role in creating inclusive environments and organizational cultures where everyone has access to opportunity. The legacy of Dr. King and that of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should challenge us to continue to do the hard work of ensuring that our institutional and social practices promote equal opportunity while discouraging barriers resulting from discrimination.

Where Are All Our Future Students?

By | November 20, 2013

Last week, I had the pleasure of providing the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents, and the USG community as a whole, an update on progress so far on our 8-year journey to transform GRU into the next great American university (watch a replay of the presentation here). It was a great opportunity to highlight the hard work and dedication of our staff and faculty in our continuing effort to provide greater excellence and value to our students and patients, while expanding our leadership across Georgia, the nation, and the world. I concluded my presentation by highlighting seven looming threats to our goals, one of which is the changing demographics of our future student population.

At the same meeting, USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby reported on the system-wide student enrollment numbers; an enrollment that is down for the second year in a row across the 31 colleges and universities in the USG System. This year’s decline of 1.6 percent is similar to last year’s (1.2 percent).

The drop mirrors national trends, with college enrollment falling 2 percent nationwide in 2012-13, the first significant decline since the 1990s. A variety of causes are theorized, from decreased affordability to declining high school graduate preparedness to the economy. Most important of all appears to be changes in the number and demographics of our students.

A recent Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education study, “Knocking at the College Door,” highlighted the challenge. As the number of births in our nation continues to decline, the number of high school (HS) graduates available for admission is also declining. The report noted that the number of HS graduates is projected to decline by nearly 7 percent in the Northeast and Midwest during this decade and about 3 percent in the West. In contrast, the number of HS graduates in the South is projected to increase more than 5 percent, though not uniformly across the region. A particular bright spot is the projected growth in minority HS graduates (between 3 and 21 percent depending on region—a target population I will discuss in a later post).

Thus, effective and high quality enrollment management—the art and science of managing and ensuring successful student enrollment—is a clear priority for USG … and for GRU especially.

Will enrollment at GRU and within the USG continue to decline? We can be assured it will—if we don’t face the facts and take action.

But good planning starts with good data. As James C. Collins reminds us in his excellent book “Good to Great,” we must always recognize and confront the Brutal Facts—what he calls the Stockdale paradox (“Confront the brutal truth of the situation, yet at the same time, never give up hope”). So our road to successful enrollment management and student growth starts with a few facts.

What’s the situation concerning enrollment at GRU? For starters the number of health professions and health sciences students continues to increase, with applications and enrollment increasing across the health sciences spectrum (a testament to the quality and value of our programs in that area). And, contrary to projections, we did not experience a significant decrease in the number of new freshman, transfers in, and graduate students between the fall of ‘12 and the fall of ‘13. We did, however, experience an 8 percent decrease in the number of students returning to complete their education, which we are working on understanding and addressing.

Perhaps more importantly and positively, university-wide total credit hours taken is higher this fall than in the fall of ’12. And a whopping 71 percent of our new freshman are taking 15 credit hours this fall vs. only 9 percent in the fall of ’12, thanks in large part to an innovative new tuition savings program called “4 Years 4 You.” A critical achievement, because students who successfully take at least 15 credit hours per semester are likely to graduate in four years. Great gains in a very short period of time.

But where will our future students come from? We certainly hope that many more HS graduates from our local community will chose to attend GRU rather than to move away for their higher education degrees. And so we are exploring many avenues and implementing many strategies to this effect.

But we also must be clear that to grow and meet our university’s enrollment targets we will have to be able to attract HS graduates from other communities to GRU and to Augusta. Census data show that for Georgia as a whole the population of future HS graduates (and hopefully college students), those individuals aged 0-17 years, increased nearly 15 percent over the 10 years between 2000 and 2010—an encouraging piece of data.

But that picture too is a mixed bag: Over the same period the 0-to-17 population of South Georgia increased by only 2.3 percent and North Georgia by 9 percent, while that of the Atlanta area increased by a dramatic 23.4 percent.

And for our local community? Unfortunately during the same time period that most of Georgia experienced an increase in the number of younger individuals, the 0-to-17 population of Richmond County decreased by 8 percent. And even when considering the entire CSRA, the area has seen little change in the number of young people over the past decade (see table below). While the reasons are multiple, this university is actively working to counter this decline by, among other strategies, partnering with the city to enhance its attraction to younger individuals.

Ages Under 18 All Counties with region summary

Census 1990-2010 Ages Under 18 All Counties with region summary (Click for larger version)

 

What does this mean for GRU? To start with, we are committed to ensuring wide access to our university, and to higher education in general, for local students. In fact, we recently initiated two programs, the Augusta Gateway Program and the East Georgia State College Partnership, to maintain access for local students who do not meet GRU regular admissions requirements. And we are working with local school districts and K-12 leaders to ensure we provide maximum service to our local HS graduates.

But changing demographics make it clear we can’t stop there. We are one of only four broad-based research universities in Georgia and the state’s only public Academic Health Center (AHC). As such we play a critical role in the development of Georgia’s future workforce and, indeed, in the growth of Georgia’s economy. If we are to draw enough students to fulfill that critical role, we must aggressively and effectively attract and recruit students from throughout the state. So we will do this with targeted pipeline programs across the state and by establishing a presence in population-rich regions, notably Atlanta.

In this regard, it’s noteworthy that we already have a significant Atlanta presence in terms of both current students and alumni. Nearly 20 percent of our current students are from the Atlanta area (second only to the nearly 60 percent from the Augusta area). And slightly more than a quarter of our alumni who live in Georgia live in the Atlanta area today, again second to the 50 percent who live locally.

And while we are a tremendous value, dollar for dollar, we also know that to be successful attracting students from the local area and beyond we must improve our student facilities and residential opportunities, help establish a richer student life, and continue to expand our academic offerings.

Our vision is to be “a top-tier university that is a destination of choice for education, health care, discovery, creativity, and innovation,” leveraging our strengths to become the next great American university, with an immediately recognizable distinction in the biomedical sciences and health professions.

An aggressive strategy to attract students from throughout the state of Georgia and beyond will be necessary to make that vision a reality—to the benefit of our community, our region, and our state.

GRU: Partnering With Georgia’s Rural Communities

By | October 21, 2013

Ribbon cutting MCG’s Northwest Campus in Rome, Ga

Photo by Jennifer Stalcup

Last week, GRU reached another exciting milestone: We celebrated the grand opening of MCG’s Northwest Campus in Rome, Ga.

So why is that so exciting?

Because, in line with our strategic priority to “provide service,” it underscores our university’s critical role in solving Georgia’s rural health care delivery challenges.

Our expanding presence in rural Georgia is all part of an overall plan to help our state address its physician shortage. Georgia ranks in the top 10 in both population and population growth, but only 41st in physicians per 100,000 population. The shortage is most acute in our rural areas.

Already one in five Georgia physicians went to medical school at MCG or completed their training at Georgia Regents Health System—a high proportion that we aim to increase. Training physicians on our satellite campuses increases the overall number of trained physicians in Georgia.

But—importantly—it also increases the likelihood that new physicians will practice in areas of greatest need. Data confirm that physicians who come from and/or train in rural areas are more likely to practice in rural areas.

The NW campus joins two other clinical campuses: Southwest Campus based at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, and Southeast Campus based at St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System in Savannah and Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick.

Together they represent a great opportunity and an important chapter in our continued commitment to help solve health care delivery problems in rural Georgia.

GRU Leads the Way

Providing quality medical care to our rural communities has always been challenging, and it’s made even more difficult in times of shrinking federal and state budgets. More than 2 million Georgians live in rural areas, where people tend to be in poorer health, are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, and more likely to suffer from chronic diseases like heart disease, obesity, and cancer than in other areas. The need for rural medical services has never been greater.

And GRU is stepping up. Here are some additional ways GRU continues to be a leader in rural health solutions:

REACH

It’s a sad fact that there is a geographic penalty for stroke in the U.S. The quality of stroke care a person receives is largely dependent on where he or she lives. Studies have shown that stroke victims in rural areas were virtually never receiving a key life-saving treatment called IV tPA.

Ten years ago, doctors in the Department of Neurology at MCG developed the remote evaluation of acute ischemic stroke (REACH) system, a novel telestroke hub-and-spoke network with a goal to extend state-of-the-art stroke therapies to patients in rural areas.

It works like this: When an emergency medicine physician in one of the rural network hospitals suspects a patient is experiencing a stroke, a call is placed to the emergency communications center at MCG and answered by one of the MCG neurologists or emergency physicians who share 24/7 on-call duties.

A REACH cart is deployed to the patient’s room, and with the help of high-speed Internet, it allows the consulting MCG physician to visually assess the patient, receive and send scans and other information back and forth, and determine treatment—including IV tPA, if indicated. After initial treatment, patients are transferred to MCG for follow up diagnosis and care.

GRU has the oldest and largest rural telestroke system in the U.S. We directly serve 11 hospitals around the state, and have provided the technology to many other hospitals, both in and outside of Georgia.

Area Health Education Centers (AHEC)

In 1996, the Medical College of Georgia and the Mercer University School of Medicine partnered to join the Georgia Statewide AHEC Network, created to respond to the challenges of limited supply and distribution of health professionals in rural and underserved areas of the state. In conjunction with a network of community partners, the GRU AHEC works to recruit, train, and retain health care professionals in underserved communities in northeast and northwest Georgia.

Partnerships with Rural Hospitals

Our health system provides assistance with clinical care, deploying specialists where they are needed. For instance, at Wills Memorial Hospital in Washington, Ga., we provide regularly scheduled clinical services in specialties such as cardiology, general surgery, ENT, and urology; and at Jefferson Hospital in Louisville, Ga., in oncology and obstetrics. The hospital provides the staff and maintains the facility fee and GRHS bills for the professional fees. Providing these specialists is critical to the survival of the rural hospitals, because of the difficulty of recruiting specialists to their communities.

Our health system also provides rural hospitals assistance with administrative support, including the preparation of Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) certification, and life support assistance (Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support [ACLS] and Pediatric Advanced Life Support [PALS]). When requested we provide consultation on quality management, infection control, facilities, and other administrative tasks—at no cost to the rural hospital.

With the opening of our newest satellite campus in Rome, GRU continues to be a leader in addressing Georgia’s rural health care challenges. It is a demonstration of our steadfast commitment—to serving our state, our Georgia neighbors, and Georgia’s rural hospitals.

GRU SACS Review Success: Why Does it Matter? And Now What?

By | September 26, 2013

Most on campus are aware of the recent Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC) Substantive Change Committee review of our university. A team of our higher education peers spent three days with us checking our progress since consolidation. They interviewed students, faculty, and administrators; and examined documentation, processes, and procedures across a wide range of disciplines and departments—and provided their feedback.

First, a little context: SACS-COC is the regional body for the accreditation of more than 800 degree-granting higher education institutions in 11 Southern states. Eighty-nine of its member institutions are located in Georgia. The Commission determines standards that must be met, grants initial accreditation status to compliant institutions in its region, and periodically (typically every five to 10 years) reassesses and reaffirms accreditation. Both Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) and Augusta State University (ASU) were fully accredited universities when the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents determined to consolidate them.

SACS-COC deems consolidation to be a “substantive change,” which triggered two requirements: SACS-COC approval prior to consolidation, and a post-consolidation visit by a substantive change committee to determine continued compliance with selected accreditation standards. That is the visit that recently occurred, and the number of standards selected for review (39) amounted to about half the full number of standards (84).

Feedback was universally positive, and included no recommendations for further action needed to ensure standards compliance.

Mark Smith, Vice President of SACS-COC said, “The hard work that led up to this visit is truly exceptional. I have been conducting site reviews since the 1980s, and a visit that concludes without recommendations is truly a rarity.”

And we were not alone in the USG. South Georgia hosted a team in April and North Georgia’s visit occurred this month, and both also received no recommendations. Middle Georgia is finalizing its report in anticipation of a November visit.

This is an exciting and gratifying outcome, and one in which we can all take justifiable pride, although we should note that the final report on our Substantive Change application (for consolidation) will not be final until the SACS-COC Board of Trustees meets later this year and reviews the Committee’s findings.

Our consolidation so far, and the positive feedback received by our peers and accrediting body, reflect the enormous effort on the part of many across all campuses who energetically and creatively, with determination and plain hard work, successfully completed the myriad tasks necessary to consolidate two distinct and complicated institutions—tasks for which there is no instruction manual. And so I would like to personally thank everyone involved for their Herculean efforts, and to single out our Institutional Effectiveness (IE) teams for their rigorous and successful preparation for this review.

But as significant as this success is, we must remember it is only one step in the challenging and ambitious journey we have mapped for ourselves. Our vision is to be a top-tier university that is a destination of choice for education, health care, discovery, creativity, and innovation. To be “The Next Great American University.” That doesn’t leave much time for resting on our laurels.

In fact, we will soon be gearing up to prepare for a full SACS reaffirmation of our accreditation, scheduled for 2016. And so I thought I would share some thoughts as to what that visit means, what it will entail, and how it fits with our future plans.

SACS-COC’s priority, like ours, is optimum student success and well-being; in the case of our substantive change review, the selected standards were chosen to ensure that the process of consolidation does not cause harm to attending students. Knowing we had to demonstrate certain competencies for the SACS-COC review in effect became a catalyst for rapid prioritization and completion of certain fundamentals for Georgia Regents University. We should be grateful; without it, we may very well not have moved so quickly nor come so far.

And it continues. There are two requirements for the 2016 review: We must demonstrate compliance with all 84 accreditation standards, and we must develop a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) that specifically and substantially addresses one or more issues across the wider academic community that will improve and enhance student learning.

Both ASU and GHSU had QEP initiatives in place or about to begin before consolidation: ASU’s plan, Knowledge InTegrated (KNIT), focused on developing common themes and narratives across four historical periods in core undergraduate classes; and GHSU’s plan, Healthy Perspectives, focused on cultural competency to address health disparities and improve patient outcomes. And because both plans were felt to significantly impact learning outcomes, both initiatives have been implemented on campus under the leadership of Wes Kisting, Associate Professor of English, and Kent Guion, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, respectively.

Preparing for our full 2016 SACS-COC reassessment will entail a great deal of work from all of us—those who continue to map out strategies and goals to reach for, and policies and tactics for achieving them; those who work every day to implement the steps necessary for success; students, faculty, and staff who contribute ideas, feedback, and suggestions for GRU’s continued improvement; and the staff who will manage and prepare to meet specific SACS-COC review requirements.

In their end-of-review commentary, review team members expressed genuine astonishment at the breadth of our accomplishments in so short a time. My heartfelt congratulations to everyone involved—and let’s work hard to Wow! our visiting colleagues just as much next time.

In the Aftermath of Terror

By | September 11, 2013

It has now been a dozen years since the barbarous 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation. Let us each take a moment to remember the thousands who tragically lost their lives—in New York City, in Washington, D.C., and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania—and the many more who were wounded or who lost a loved one on that terrible day.

The truth is we all lost something on that Tuesday morning. An important part of our nation’s foundation was shaken; a foundation we took for granted—that we were secure, our families safe, our borders impenetrable. Suddenly we felt vulnerable, we felt exposed, we felt afraid. And we felt angry.

Terrorists perpetrate crimes that are truly against humanity … and their intent is indeed to alter our humanity. For human beings respond in largely unconscious ways when so fundamentally threatened. Attacks like these can change the way we think … about others. About race and ethnicity. About our faith. About our own country and other countries. About the future. And most of all, about those who do not agree with us on all counts.

After 9/11, individuals with Middle Eastern or Arabic sounding names began to be viewed as probable terrorists. And some among us viewed the Islamic faith, though the largest religion on the planet, as a threat to our way of life. It is clear that the horrific attacks of that day altered the way we think. About our citizens, about our friends, and about the world. Rapidly and in ways almost impossible to control.

But something else happened on that day: People of all kinds stepped up to help one another. Heroic first responders climbed up the tower stairs seeking to help others climb down—and kept climbing until the towers collapsed around them. Hundreds of ordinary people committed individual acts of heroism and kindness to comfort, to heal, or to save a stranger. And passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93—who had arisen that ordinary morning and boarded a seemingly mundane flight to San Francisco—launched a courageous though ultimately doomed attempt to save themselves and their fellow passengers by taking the terrorists down. Their heroic sacrifice no doubt saved many lives at the site of the intended target.

These dual responses happen each time we face attack; they happened earlier this year when terrorists struck at the Boston Marathon. We can count on it: Terrorism brings out both the best and some of the worst in human nature.

So what can we do? How do we ensure the good wins?

We must be aware of these side effects of terror, both the negative and the positive. We must carefully monitor for and guard against the first … while we highlight and honor the second.

For in this way—if we refuse to allow ourselves to become something different, to change the way we regard our fellow human beings; if instead we celebrate and pay homage to the generosity of spirit and to the courage so brilliantly on display in the midst of tragedy—then we deny the terrorists the results they seek.

The terrorists lose.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Had a Dream of Freedom and Opportunity For All: His Legacy to Our Hispanic Students

By | August 28, 2013

Fifty years ago today, a quarter of a million Americans gathered in our nation’s capital to enjoin our country and our government to live up to a dream; a dream articulated so movingly by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in his iconic speech. Reverend King and the brave, passionate, and committed marchers who joined him galvanized a nation to action—and long-standing barriers that prevented millions of Americans from fully participating in America’s promise began to fall.

Americans of all races, colors, and creeds are the beneficiaries of the American Civil Rights movement, of which that historic march was a part. For our nation only becomes richer when we welcome and celebrate the rich diversity of cultures from which Americans descend.

One of the six core values of Georgia Regents University (GRU) is “Inclusivity,” whereby the institution and the university community commit to ensure that we not only have diverse bodies of students, faculty, and staff, but that we also ensure the engagement of these individuals in the life and future of our university … and consequently our state and our nation. GRU’s growing population of Hispanic students is testament to the distance we have traveled to realize this value.

The number of Hispanics in the U.S. grew more than 45% from 2000-2010; in Augusta the increase was 37% over about the same period. With the median age now at 27.4 years compared to 36.8 years for the U.S. population as a whole, Hispanic growth has substantially impacted kindergarten thru high school (K-12) enrollment. According to a recent report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the number of Hispanic students in metro Atlanta public schools rose by more than 100,000 between 2000 and 2012. As a result of these demographic changes, an increasing number of Hispanics have begun to pursue higher education in our state and in our community.

According to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Hispanic undergraduates at American universities and colleges numbered 2.5 million in 2011-2012, accounting for 15 percent of the total U.S. undergraduate population. A little more than half of these students attend two-year institutions; the proportion enrolled in 4-year private and public universities has been increasing. At GRU, the Hispanic population on our combined campuses rose 43 percent between 2008 and 2012, and has doubled over the past decade. It is important to note that a substantial number of Latinos enrolled in a college or university are the first in their family to go to college; in 2011, it was more than 40 percent.

Our students are finding success in a wide variety of programs of study. For example, the graduating class of 2012 on the Summerville campus included Hispanic students in Speech and Communication, Computer Sciences, Education, Foreign Languages, Business Administration, Finance, Marketing, and History. On the Health Sciences campus, the 2012 graduating class included Hispanics in Pharmacology, Dentistry, Oral Biology, Dental Hygiene, Nuclear Medical Technology, Respiratory Therapy, Nursing, Nurse Anesthetist, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Physician Assistant, Medicine, and Public Health. Traditionally, Hispanics have been under-represented in the health professions, and efforts to increase access to these career options are a nationwide priority. Clearly, this is beginning to be fulfilled at GRU, although much remains to be done.

But access to a university education is not the only factor that we must consider. Students must not only have the ability to attend but must also be able to successfully graduate. GRU has several organizations that support our Hispanic students’ success through academic enrichment and engagement; among them are Los Amigos, the Hispanic Student Dental Association, the Medical Spanish Club, and the Peru Society. Additionally, our students participate in numerous Study Abroad Programs that provide the opportunity to visit Spanish-speaking countries and serve to reinvigorate familiar cultural experiences. Locally, our students volunteer at many community-based activities focused on serving the increasing needs of the Hispanic community, including la Clínica Latina and la Asociación Latina De Servicios Del CSRA (ALAS).

The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” refer to a very diverse group of peoples. Hispanics originate from more than 20 countries where Spanish is the official language. At GRU our Hispanic students originate from 10 of these countries, a source of cultural enrichment for our university and local community. We encourage all of our students and employees to participate in Augusta’s annual Hispanic Festival, and we sponsor a multitude of activities during fall’s National Hispanic Heritage Month; last year’s included traditional Hispanic dancing (Salsa, Tango, and Zumba), cuisine, and a blood drive. (More Hispanics have the very critically needed O or “universal” blood type than any other ethnic group in the U.S.) Overall, we are looking forward to greater participation by our Hispanic community and students in the exciting and growing life of our university.

At GRU, we remain committed to inclusivity, and welcome students, faculty, and staff from all cultural backgrounds to our campuses. Today, we join millions across the nation to celebrate Reverend King’s – and our nation’s – dream of limitless opportunity for all Americans.