The 2013-2014 academic year saw many successes for Middle Georgia State College.
A nationwide presidential search ended with the appointment of Dr. Christopher Blake, whose "better and bigger" challenge for the college includes a successful transition to university status. More students are earning bachelor's degrees. The college underwent a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges review due to the "substantive change" of consolidation with positive results.
In addition, new academic/community partnerships were launched, including an agreement to provide online training for the state Department of Corrections. The School of Information Technology opened a highly touted digital forensics lab. The School of Health Sciences saw an expansion of the nursing program in the addition of faculty, evening/weekend A.S. programs on the Dublin and Warner Robins campuses and a boost in the number of baccalaureate nursing students.
Those highlights and others were part of the annual report to faculty by Dr. Marti Venn, Middle Georgia State's provost, at the annual academic assembly meeting.
"Considering the ongoing challenges of consolidation, a presidential search and a SACS review, Middle Georgia State came through the year in good shape," Venn said. "We have many triumphs to build on in the coming year."
Venn pointed out some positive trends for the college. One of the most significant is the rise in the number of bachelor's degrees conferred, from 454 in fiscal 2010 to 703 in the current year. The one-year retention rate for all first-time full-time freshmen has been rising since fall 2009, from 57.96 percent to 65.85 percent. Six-year graduation rates for first-time full-time freshmen is on an uptick, as are learning support student success rates.
But challenges remain.
In keeping with a trend affecting many institutions of higher education nationwide, Middle Georgia State's enrollment and the number of credit hours students take are dipping. Venn cited a number of reasons behind the decline, including uncertainty on the part of prospective students about a newly consolidated institution, a decline in the population of 18-year-olds and changes in admissions standards. The combined enrollment of the two institutions that now make up Middle Georgia State in fall 2009 was 10,000; today it is 8,100.
Also, the three-year graduation rate for first-time full-time freshmen in associate's degree programs has seen a decline, even as the number of bachelor's degrees conferred is rising.
Venn said a number of initiatives to address those challenges are in the works. One involves redesigning some two-year programs to strengthen their career focuses. Instead of several A.S. degrees in individual branches of the natural sciences, there could be one with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focus.
"We want to streamline associate's degrees and make them more directly applicable to a student's specific career goals," Venn said.
Turning around the downward trends is vital, because in fiscal year 2016 state funding for University System of Georgia institutions will be based in part on student progression and retention rates.
"A lot is expected of Middle Georgia State on many fronts, especially as the college heads toward university status," she said. "But I think we're up to the challenge. We have outstanding faculty and academic programs, and the college remains a great value for students who want higher education at an affordable cost. I believe Middle Georgia State will continue to stand for greatness for this region and beyond."
Created in early 2013 through the consolidation of two institutions, Middle Georgia State has campuses in Macon, Cochran, Dublin, Eastman and Warner Robins, as well as numerous online learning opportunities. The school offers 17 bachelor's degrees with a variety of concentrations and majors, associate's degrees and a limited number of certificates, most of the latter through its School of Aviation.