On Tuesday, September 18, 2018, East Georgia State College held the Annual State of the College Presidential Address in the Academic Building’s tiered classroom. The standing-room-only event allowed EGSC President Bob Boehmer to outline the state of East Georgia State College at this point in time as well as present initiatives that will continue to keep EGSC moving forward into the future of higher education.
Dr. Boehmer began his State of the College with the following statement: “I come to you today exhausted, as many of you are, due to the efforts of our team to bring our dreams for this special place to reality. Although exhausted, I speak to you today with a sense of great satisfaction for what we have achieved together over the last seven years. There has been truly remarkable and positive change.”
He continued, “I also come to you today optimistic about the future of this special place. My optimism is not Pollyannish. My optimism is based on the fact that our mission matches the greatest need in higher education today in the country—access to high quality, affordable education. My optimism is based on the fact that, at a time when the nation demands this affordability, we are among the most affordable in the nation. It is based on the fact that, at a time when the nation demands accountability, we are financially solid. It is based on the fact that, at a time when the nation demands that higher education be creative and change to prepare students for the diverse digital modern workplace, we as a team have accepted that challenge. We sit today on over 400 acres of amazing land which we can shape in any way we might imagine to meet the unique needs of this region.”
He went on to thank those assembled for their “dedication to these amazing students and this region.”
“I recognize how much I ask of all of you,” he continued. “I know that we are all suffering from initiative fatigue. I demand each day that you respond to the countless major external initiatives in which we are participating. I remind you each day of the compelling need to raise more private funds because of the changing financial model for higher education. I implore you each day to study and understand the dramatic changes in the way our students learn and the radically changing workforce they are facing and to, correspondingly, change the way you teach and administer. I beseech you each day to make even greater efforts to treat each other with the respect you all deserve and improve your communications with each other. Id o all of this because I believe so deeply in the potential of these amazing students and in your talents and your capacity to change to meet their needs.”
Dr. Boehmer then outlined the importance of EGSC’s niche in higher education. “We see a community which takes pride, not in its selectivity, but in its openness. It is all about student success and access. Every decision we make is judged by that standard. At EGSC, we are here because of the community we serve. This is truly your community’s college. We know that accomplishing our mission depends on our ability to collaborate, not compete with, our partners in education: the school district, the technical colleges and the comprehensive universities in our region.”
He then went on to describe how the college has been doing the past seven years of his presidency. Enrollment is strong, even during a period of serious enrollment challenges for colleges and universities across the country. The financial condition is solid at EGSC as well. There are three key elements to providing the money the institution needs to carry out our mission: state funding, tuition and private funding. State funding has been decreasing as a share of the total cost of education across the nation. Despite the national trend, and even though EGSC has a long way to go in that area, large steps forward have been taken to increase state funding for the college. Tuition revenue, though a contentious, hot topic across the nation, has remained consistent at EGSC, making it one of the most affordable colleges, not just in Georgia, but in the nation. According to the most recent official federal affordability rankings, EGSC is ranked #43 and #46 in the nation respectively on the lowest net price and lowest tuition lists among all public four-year colleges. Also, the student loan default rate at EGSC has dropped by around 11% in the last six years. The third element, private fundraising, has taken on a vastly increased importance due to decreasing state funding and pressure to maintain low tuition. Great strides have been made in this area by the EGSC Foundation. From the end of fiscal year 2012 to the end of fiscal year 2018, the total assets of the Foundation have increased from about $987,000 to about $2.8 million. This has, more importantly, enabled EGSC to increase scholarships from about $80,000 per year to about $320,000 per year over the same period.
“We have taken EGSC to places where students need access,” continued Dr. Boehmer, outlining the college’s dual enrollment plan, which makes classes available to students on all three campuses, taking classes to high schools, and making courses and programs available online, leading to an increase in dually enrolled students. “We have high housing occupancy rates, with our residence halls currently housing 425 students. The menu of degree programs has expanded dramatically, going from one associate degree program and one bachelors degree program to 16 associate degrees with disciplinary distinction, one academic certificate, a certificate in workforce development through our CHOICE program, and three targeted bachelor’s degrees: Biology, Fire and Emergency Services Administration, and an RN-BSN Bridge Program.”
He also spoke about the expansion of the Swainsboro campus in the last three years. Physical buildings including the two residence halls, Shot Strange Clubhouse, and the Academic Building Expansion have changed the face of the campus, and The Morgan House in Swainsboro helped to bridge the campus and community. Land gifts from the Gambrell family have increased the total land area of the Swainsboro campus to almost 400 acres, and EGSC is currently preparing for an expansion to the Jean A. Morgan Student Activities Center.
“Capital improvements to the main campus alone have totaled almost $29 million,” Dr. Boehmer explained. “All of this expansion has been accomplished without the college taking on debt. Long after all of us are gone, the college will have sufficient land to meet the expanding needs of the region for higher education.”
He made sure to recognize the legislative delegation of Senator Jack Hill, Senator Jesse Stone and Representative Butch Parrish, the EGSC facilities staff and trustees of the Foundation for making these improvements and expansions possible.
Dr. Boehmer then went on to outline challenges facing the college, including nation-wide enrollment flat lining, working towards becoming a leader in awarding credit for prior learning to military personnel and working adults, finding innovative funding strategies, keeping up with changing employment trends, utilizing data analytics to reach, retain and graduate students; working with our local K-12 institutions, technical colleges and comprehensive universities to raise college expectations; changing the pattern of enrollment and degree completion to increase the percentage of our adult population with post-secondary educational credits; working to be efficient and transparent to continually improve pathways from EGSC to larger comprehensive universities; implementing new strategies to encompass the changing landscape of mobile computing devices, artificial intelligence, social media, gaming and other forces changing how our students learn; and increasing our offering of online classes to meet demands from adult learners.
“So where do we go now? Simply put, EGSC is going to become the model affordable, innovative, high-quality rural access institution in the United States,” he continued. Steps taken have included the implementation of a bus route through Swainsboro to reinforce the historically strong connection between college and community, the start of two leadership development programs—one for students and the other for faculty and staff, and creating a raise pool for all personnel earning less than $60,000 per effective January 1, 2019. EGSC will also work to increase partnerships with other institutions of higher education, including the presentation of a minor capital improvement project to EGSC-Statesboro, which will not be final until the legislature acts in 2019. More targeted degrees will also be presented to meet the needs of the region, including a proposed Bachelor of Applied Science, which will have five concentrations available to students: healthcare management, business, natural resource management and sustainability, IT and network management and sports leadership. A decision by the Board of Regents on this proposal is anticipated soon.
Dr. Boehmer also reaffirmed the college’s commitment to the University System of Georgia’s Momentum Year Initiative, which shows on students who, in their first year of college, complete both core math and English courses, take at least nine credit hours in their focus area, and complete at least 30 credit hours are far more likely to complete a degree. To accomplish this, it takes intentionality and simple hard work on a college-wide level, from scheduling software and early intervention to intrusive advising, assigned schedules for new students, and other techniques.
“We are doing all of this and more. I am confident that this will lead to higher course success rates, retention rates, and graduation rates,” he said. “That is going to happen, not by compromising quality, but by believing in the capability of our students to succeed.”
He closed his Presidential Address by saying “Thank you for spending this time with me. Your support is what is going to bring these dreams to reality.”