Jaguar student athletes help out at the Family Y's Miracle League

A Great Weekend in Augusta!

By | September 10, 2014

This past weekend, hundreds gathered during several events that together dramatically showcased both the potential and the reality of the partnership between GRU and our community. It was energizing, enlightening, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Master's Table Soup Kitchen

Master’s Table Soup Kitchen

Saturday, my family and I were privileged to join close to 1,000 volunteers from our university family to provide a “Day of Service” to our local community. This fourth-annual event has grown each year since it began in 2011. My family and I had the opportunity to personally serve at the Golden Harvest Food Bank’s Master’s Table Soup Kitchen, where our volunteers helped serve some of the many individuals in need in our community.

Jonathon and I then went to the Family Y’s Miracle League, where several of our Jaguar athletic teams — women’s softball and basketball, and men’s and women’s cross-country and track — assisted kids with disabilities in playing softball. Volunteers from our College of Nursing were also on hand to provide health assessments to parents and other fans.

Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art

Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art

Cindy and our daughter, Mallory, went over to the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art to join the many volunteers helping perform necessary upkeep to the building and grounds of that venerable facility.

Our Jaguar athletes were particularly busy — In addition to the student athletes noted above, our men’s basketball team conducted clinics for the Boys and Girls Club at our own Christenberry Fieldhouse, and our women’s golf team helped paint at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum.

Jaguar student athletes help out at the Family Y's Miracle League

Jaguar student athletes help out at the Family Y’s Miracle League

All told, on this one day, GRU volunteers performed thousands of hours of community service to 23 organizations in the Central Savannah River Area. It was inspiring —and it made me very proud — to see so many from our GRU family give their time in our community to do a little good for those among us who can use a helping hand.

The annual Day of Service allows us to make a tangible difference in our community and demonstrates to our neighbors and friends that our university faculty, students, and staff are engaged and a part of our community. But perhaps the most tangible return from the event is that it exposes the GRU community to the myriad needs and volunteering opportunities all around us, right here in the CSRA. It is my hope that many of our volunteers will continue to give to these and other organizations throughout the rest of the year.

Later that night, the MCG Foundation’s 60th Anniversary Celebration, held in conjunction with the Alumni Association’s Augusta Regional Reception, beautifully showcases the foundation of strong alumni support and our shared commitment to education and health care excellence for our university, our community, our region, and our state.

The day ended with the inaugural “Jazz at the G” concert at the
D. Douglas Barnard Jr. Amphitheatre on GRU’s Summerville Campus, where we enjoyed a wonderful concert by three talented groups of performers: The Tandem, Joel Cruz and Karen Gordon, and the JAMP Masters. This free concert was open not only to our university family, but also to the community, and is the first in a six-part series scheduled through next spring. The series is presented by GPB in Augusta, in collaboration with the GRU Department of Music, Garden City Jazz, and The Greater Augusta Arts Council. This well-organized and well-attended event is but one great example of how GRU can add enrichment both on our campuses and within the larger community.

All in all, it was a splendid Saturday, and together these events illustrate some of the many ways that our university is positively impacting our community.

Discover What’s Next: A Campus Culture for Student Success

By | August 12, 2014

As our fall semester starts shortly, we know this is both an exciting and nerve-racking time for our newest students. They’ll face many firsts, navigate newfound independence, meet hundreds of people, and weigh a multitude of decisions.

It can be exhilarating … and it can be overwhelming. In Georgia, one in four freshmen don’t return to college for their sophomore year, so it’s clearly overwhelming for too many.

And so I am excited to share with you what your university has in the works to ensure we provide the tools and support our students need not only to survive, but to grow and thrive in their new lives at Georgia Regents University.

The research is clear: Student involvement is key to student learning and personal growth. Student engagement—through campus and academic enrichment activities, and with their fellow students and faculty members—is a critical factor in student retention and success.

Thus, we have prioritized building campus experiences that engage our students with university life and create the bonds and competencies that will help our students succeed.

Last summer, 1,344 students attended orientation sessions, and we expect more this summer. We held two-day pilot sessions with plans to expand all orientation sessions to two days beginning next year.

Freshman Convocation will offer new students a range of opportunities to meet each other, interact with fellow students and faculty, and gain tools to successfully transition to university life. This year’s events include a First-Generation Student information session, a course (Freshman 1101) providing tips and advice from older students and faculty members, and more.

We are creating a student leadership development program to foster leadership skills at three levels: personal/self, interpersonal/others, and organizations/teams.

We have significantly strengthened our student advisement program and added tools for real-time assessment of student performance so that once students are here, they receive the support they need to make steady progress to graduation.

  • We centralized our Academic Advisement Center to a convenient location in Summerville’s University Hall and hired additional professional academic and career advisors.
  • And we implemented GradesFirst, an early alert system through which faculty can identify undergraduates struggling with targeted course material. Once identified, Academic Advisors are alerted so that students are directed to appropriate resources to get the help they need.

We know that housing is a significant issue for students who come from outside the Augusta metropolitan area; they will comprise almost 60 percent of all new GRU students this fall. And we should recognize that it is a concern even for many students whose families are local. Quality on-campus housing benefits more than student satisfaction and safety—it positively impacts a range of student success measures.

GRU has a number of existing student housing opportunities, including those located near the College of Dental Medicine, those at the Alumni Center on 15th Street, and the University Village complex proximate to our Forest Hills campus. But to meet our increasing demand for on-campus housing, we’ve converted a number of single occupancy rooms at University Village and Residence 4 to doubles. And even with that, we will be at full capacity for the fall!

But it’s not enough to provide students with housing. We must provide them with richer services and support. And so, as we have more students living on campus than ever before, we’ve added many more services to support them. We have:

  • Created new intentional learning communities;
  • Increased safety and security measures for all students;
  • Doubled the number of live-in staff members on both campuses;
  • Identified freshmen-only housing, and special sections for honors and scholars students; and
  • Expanded academic and social freshmen success programs, like University Connections for first-year students in housing.

Increasing the quality and availability of student housing is a challenge that we are actively working to address. In the short-term, we are working with the University System of Georgia to add more housing for GRU by fall 2016. In the long term, creating dynamic living spaces for GRU students that truly enhance their campus experience and create synergy with our Augusta community is a critical piece of our Master Campus Planning project; a plan we aim to complete by the beginning of 2015.

Finally, taking care of our students’ physical, mental, and emotional health is one of our top priorities. We are fortunate to be part of a university that provides access to a dedicated and excellent healthcare system, and we are expanding services to students that support every facet of their health.

We have added mental health professionals and expanded professional counseling services on both campuses that are included in health fees for currently enrolled students. Students in distress are a critical issue on college campuses around the country. At GRU, we show we CARE (Campus Assessment, Response, and Evaluation) with our new referral program that provides information and tools to all students, faculty, and staff to help students in distress.

All students have access to expanded recreation, wellness, and fitness facilities, which have proven very popular: Last year, student use increased 29 percent and faculty/staff memberships increased 17 percent. In 2013-14 there were more than 110,000 visits to the wellness center, with freshmen being the highest using cohort.

So Discover What’s Next at GRU as we work to develop and empower students to be active learners, personally competent, and engaged in their campus, local, and global communities.

Investiture Ceremony

What I Miss Most

By | June 27, 2014

Next month will mark a personal and professional milestone for me: I will start my fifth year as university president, first of what was then called the Medical College of Georgia, then Georgia Health Sciences University, and for the last year and a half — proudly — of Georgia Regents University.

Over the years, people have asked me what I miss the most about my previous — pre-president — life.

It’s a pretty easy question to answer, and certainly near the top of the list would be my students.

In my nearly 30 years as a faculty member and during my almost 20 years as a residency and fellowship director, I always had the tremendous privilege and pleasure of having young and eager minds around me, full of energy and curiosity, wanting nothing more than to learn, than to be the best they could be. Because at our heart, those of us who choose academics as our career path choose it because we enjoy the world of inquiry and learning, and most of all because we can share that world with the next generations.

And so, for the time being, my opportunities to work one-on-one with students are somewhat limited. But, as President of this great and growing institution, my opportunities to serve our students and work to their benefit have never been greater.

Passion for educating students and a desire to help forge a better future for our nation and the world is a must … a prerequisite … for selection of leaders at GRU. Because there is no greater goal. And together we are translating that passion into targeted, innovative, and robust programs to enrich our students’ educational journey and ensure their success.

For example we:

  • Created a wider variety of degree pathway programs: Taking advantage of our expanded academic reach, we’ve added accelerated programs (BS/MD, BS/DMD), dual degree programs (MD/MBA, MD/MPH), new majors (BA Anthropology, BS Ecology, BS Cell and Molecular Biology, BS Applied Information Systems and Technology), and a Health Professions Education Certificate, plus a redesigned Nursing program.
  • Initiated the 4 Years 4 U Campaign: Launched in fall 2013, this program has shown terrific early success in encouraging and supporting student efforts to take and succeed at a full 15+-credit-hour course load per semester, so they can complete their undergraduate degrees in four years or less, shortening the time at their university studies and reducing the costs to earn their diplomas.
  • Expanded the First and Second Year Experience: To help transition students into college life and support their early success, these programs offer fun and informative introductory events and specialized efforts, such as early alert systems and professional advising during the first two years of a student’s undergraduate degree, to reduce early dropouts and student failure.
  • Improved our Student Services: We’ve shifted resources to consolidate and enlarge our Academic Advising Center and created a one-stop-shop Enrollment Services Center on the Summerville campus to better serve students.
  • Created unique partnerships and programs to ensure access for our local students: A collaborative partnership between East Georgia State College and GRU provides Augusta-area students who do not initially meet GRU admissions requirements a convenient and affordable access point and an opportunity to earn 30 credit hours while simultaneously preparing for transfer into a bachelor’s degree program. And the Augusta Gateway Program offers local incoming freshmen special admission status to GRU if they meet the admission requirements of the former ASU along with an array of support services needed to succeed.
  • Enriched our students’ research and scholarship opportunities: Through the STAR program, the Center for Undergraduate Research & Scholarship (CURS), the Savannah River Scholars Program, and much more, GRU students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels have multiple opportunities to enhance learning through direct participation in research and scholarship across all academic disciplines.

So while I look forward to someday teaching and directly interacting with students more, for now, I will continue to work diligently, along with the entire GRU team, to ensure we always offer greater academic value and future success to all of our students … one student at a time.

Dr. Eugene P. Trani

A Tale of Two Consolidations

By | May 12, 2014

It was standing room only in the Lee Auditorium recently when Dr. Eugene P. Trani, President Emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University, spoke as part of the President’s Lecture Series.

Here are some comments I’ve received from attendees:

“Wow – the similarities between VCU’s merger and ours are amazing.”

“It was really encouraging to see the success of an institution farther down the road on this consolidation business than we are.”

Watch the video of Dr. Eugene P. Trani

See Dr. Trani’s full presentation.

“I get it now – It takes decades. But we are already ahead of where VCU was even 20 years after consolidation.”

The feedback has been so positive that I thought I’d share some key takeaways and encourage everyone to take the time to watch the video. I promise you’ll find Dr. Trani engaging and his talk both enlightening and entertaining.

The Set Up

In 1968, central Virginia’s public medical school, the Medical College of Virginia, and a small proximate primarily undergraduate institution, the Richmond Professional Institute, consolidated to create a broad-based public research university, Virginia Commonwealth University, located in Richmond, Va.

The new university enrolled about 13,000 students (about 90 percent of whom came from RPI), was comprised of two campuses about two miles apart, offered programs across a wide range of disciplines with a specialization in the health sciences, and was located in a mid-sized city with a population of about 220,000.

Sound familiar?

Today, 40 years later, VCU is a vibrant engine of the state and nation’s knowledge economy and a biotech and life sciences hub, with 32,000 students, 19,000 employees, more than $260 million in research funding, a $2.5 billion budget, and an aligned and integrated health system that functions as a regional medical center. It boasts top-ranked graduate programs in disciplines as varied as sculpture and nurse anesthesia.

But, as Dr. Trani made clear, it didn’t happen overnight.

The Promise Becomes Reality

From 1968 until 1990, when Dr. Trani took the helm, VCU made very little progress in transforming the two disparate legacy institutions into one. Efforts were repeatedly defeated by entrenched cultural and institutional differences. There wasn’t even a single accounting system. In fact, it was clear from his presentation that the major strides GRU has already made have put us much further ahead of where VCU was even 20 years after their consolidation, a testament to the dedication and engagement of our faculty and staff.

However, significant growth and progress was made under Dr. Trani’s leadership, and it was during his 19-year tenure that the promise of the consolidation became a reality.

But it still didn’t happen overnight. In fact, for the first five years of his tenure, enrollment stayed about the same or decreased. And he described the university’s and his relationship with the local community prior to 1990 as an “unpeaceful coexistence.” It took years of developing partnerships and collaboration to turn that relationship around.

In his presentation, Dr. Trani described some of the elements he views as key to the ultimately successful consolidation:

  • A master planning process focused on developing a single continuous and integrated campus that became the center of a revitalized downtown.
  • Creating an aligned and integrated health system and committing significant investment to grow the clinical operation into a regional medical center.
  • Leveraging public/private partnerships to augment available public funding gaps, e.g., to create a Biotech Research Park, construct needed student housing and other facilities, and even to purchase logoed buses to create a unifying cross-campus transportation system.
  • Fostering effective collaboration with the local community and government focused on benefiting all.
  • Decisively settling university nomenclature and investing in appropriate and robust signage.
  • Ensuring the governance structure reflects a single institution: one board, one university council, one faculty senate, etc.
  • A focus on strong athletics — there is no better way to get everybody on the same team.

Some Takeaways

There are many similarities between the VCU and GRU stories. And a few key differences.

When asked what was the most significant challenge he personally faced during his tenure, Dr. Trani responded, “Balancing history and tradition with where we needed to go in the future.” That has been, and continues to be, a challenge for all of us as well.

However, one key difference between VCU’s and our experience is that, thanks to the hard work of thousands across our campuses, we have moved much faster to become one university. And though we still have a ways to go towards our end goal … we are well on our way to realizing our vision “to be a top-tier university that is a destination of choice for education, health care, discovery, creativity, and innovation.” A university in which we all Aspire to Greatness in everything we do.

Another key difference is the economic climate: The ‘90s were a period of strong economic growth and healthy public coffers, from which VCU benefited. The economic environment we face today is much weaker and significantly more challenging, requiring us to be extraordinarily prudent and smart stewards of the resources we have.

VCU, under Dr. Trani’s leadership, started out where we are and made their vision a reality to the great benefit of their students, faculty, staff, community, state, … and the world. As we will do at Georgia Regents University.

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.