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March 14, 2017 | News

Art Dunning: Higher education, economic development and the future of Southwest Georgia

Writer: Art Dunning

Published March 11, 2017
Albany Herald

Many years ago, there was an advertising campaign that declared, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Targeting younger buyers, Oldsmobile, a company that had rested on its laurels for decades, realized that the market was changing.

Similar to the automobile market, the landscape for higher education has undergone substantial transformations, and more are on the horizon. Technology, automation, market globalization, funding streams and demographics are changing continuously. The competition for young scholars is fierce. We are not only competing against other physical campuses, the market has now been saturated with many online for-profit and not-for-profit options.

In so many ways, we must all face the reality that “this is not your father’s college education.”

 

In recent discussions with people in the Albany community, individuals have expressed that they would not want to have my job. Change is hard, and consolidating two higher education institutions with rich legacies and historic roots into one university is no easy task.

While we all like to reminisce about our days in college, efforts to ensure that this generation has the exact same experiences that we did is not only impossible, it is detrimental. Many of us went to college before the inventions of computers, cellphones and many other technological advances to which we now have access.

Today’s students are bombarded with information via the internet that used to take us weeks to discover. The benefit of a higher education is that it prepares you to become a lifelong learner. Our institutions are therefore required to be in continuous quality improvement and learning mode. We have to teach differently; offer majors that mirror the present and future needs of the work force; ensure that our business processes are keeping step with technology; provide exceptional service, and diversify our financial portfolios.

As the president of the newly consolidated Albany State University, I am responsible for leading this new institution in a way that makes it nimble and agile enough to get in front of this accelerated change. Not only is this the expectation of our graduates and their families, but the survival and vitality of Southwest Georgia depends of us getting this right.

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to the White House to visit with the new administration and to share thoughts concerning higher education in the United States. The day before our gathering in the Oval Office, we had a day of sessions with the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund. While the meeting was an excellent opportunity to hear about potential new revenue streams, partnerships and other benefits, it was also a sobering reality check regarding the substantive changes facing higher education that I have been experiencing, reading about, and studying.

During the visit, Moody’s Investors Service representatives outlined many of the changes occurring at the national, state and local levels. Below are some of those changes and how the newly consolidated Albany State University is planning to respond.

National:

• There is greater internationalization of markets in the United States. Our students will not only be competing for jobs against other Georgians and other Americans, they must compete with students from around the world. Albany State University has professors from all over the nation and the globe. In fact, 58 faculty members bring knowledge, information and perspectives from 17 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Exposing students to globalization of thoughts and ideas and enabling them to travel abroad and think innovatively as global citizens will strengthen their positions in the marketplace.

• Changes in federal policy and funding. Approximately 85 percent of our students currently utilize financial aid. In recent years, changes to the Pell Grant and Parent Plus loans decreased the number of students who could access enough funding to cover the cost of attendance. With more changes looming, governmental monetary support will continue declining. Thus, relying solely on government funding is irresponsible. Increased corporate, foundation and individual giving will create the type of diversified funding to ensure that our students have the financial ability to attend and graduate.

• Federal research funding opportunities remain steady and our talented faculty are tapping into competitive grants, such as: the $5.5 million recently obtained from the Wallace foundation to improve K-12 school leadership; the $769,000 grant to prevent and reduce substance abuse, transmission of HIV/AIDS, HPV and HCV among young adults in Southwest, Georgia; and a $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to increase the number of students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math.

State:

• The University System of Georgia leadership has demonstrated through its policies an understanding that leveraging resources and fostering cooperation and collaboration is not only smart, it is imperative to the survival of colleges and universities. As a public institution, we face rising inflation, escalating labor costs and limited increases in tuition rates. The consolidation enables us to leverage the best resources from both campuses, build more sustainable partnerships and create programs that will attract more students.

• Two-thirds of new jobs in Georgia will require a post-secondary certificate or degree. The need for higher education is as great as ever. With a technical college and a comprehensive university offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degrees co-located in one community, there should be an option available for every high school graduate in Southwest Georgia.

Local:

• Demographics shared recently by faculty at UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government indicate that the fastest-growing population in Southwest Georgia will be people over the age of 65, and there will be an increase in the number of high school graduates who are Hispanic. Our majors and programs must meet the needs of the community now and in the future. Expanding the scope and expertise within the Albany State University Darton College of Health Professions will enable us to do this. Moreover, our campus environment must be inclusive and welcoming to all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background.

• Governance and management in higher education is transforming the type of talent and expertise needed for administrative teams. The Board of Regents and the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges have increased focus on accountability and performance. That accountability and performance is at every level of the organization. I have recently appointed new members of my senior administration team, some from each of the institutions and some from across the country.

• Risk management takes on a deeper and stronger responsibility in helping universities protect their strategic directions, including the following: crisis management; federal and state funding; employee relations; litigation; academic preparedness; inability to repay student loans; facilities management; cybersecurity; competitive pressures with other institutions.

• Effective short- and long-term planning is essential to respond strategically to the needs of our students and the economic development of Southwest Georgia. Albany State University is in the midst of a comprehensive strategic planning process, which will include listening sessions throughout the region.

Albany State University is now the largest university in Southwest Georgia. We have an opportunity to increase the economic footprint for the region, while preparing the next generation of the work force. Communities that work together thrive, while communities that stay separate and dwell on differences become stagnant and irrelevant. We may not have I-75 coming through our community, bringing visitors on their way to Florida who spend money and promote economic growth. However, together we can build a united college town, with a thriving and robust downtown corridor that will not only attract students from throughout the region, the country and the world, but will attract visitors and new residents who are drawn to the “Good Life City” for its arts, culture, businesses and education.

Albany State University can no longer be “your father’s college education.” It is in the process of becoming a 21st-century institution of higher education that is meeting the current and future needs of the community and the work force in Southwest Georgia and beyond. Negative rumors and resistance to necessary change will only harm the growth and development of Albany State University, which directly impacts economic development in the region. Let’s put aside our past grievances for the good of “One Thriving Albany.” Thanks in advance for joining me on this journey.