With fall semester in full swing, I hope each of you is well and enjoying this cooler weather. It’s an exciting time on our campuses, as well as in the University System Office. My role as Chancellor continues to energize me and is one I consider to be the most impactful job I’ve ever had. I hope you feel the same as staff members.
I want to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on the direction we are headed in as the University System of Georgia and recognize the valuable role each of you play in helping USG fulfill its mission on behalf of our students and the state.
I have been privileged to witness your good work first-hand in my travels to all 26 of USG’s institutions as well as to our USO facilities in Sandersville and Athens. The state of our university system is strong, and I appreciate your hard work to make that happen. At the same time, as I have also told faculty, we face some headwinds such as shrinking enrollments due to lower birth rates and the economy, ‘leakage’ of students away from Georgia and marketplace disruptions that are demanding a highly qualified yet nimble workforce. Our campuses are already responding to these challenges in different ways. Some are engaging in predictive analytics to recruit students and help them succeed. Others use dashboards to drive the decisions made by their leaders. Many are focused on relevant academic programs that will meet workforce needs in local communities and across the state. However, current challenges and opportunities demand that we keep getting better. As I mentioned in many of my visits and meetings, I have captured this idea of continuous improvement in a slogan that I use to talk about the system: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best!”
You may be wondering how this idea will affect you as staff? To take our institutions from good to better to best, we need to take several approaches. We need to identify best practices at each institution and then share them throughout the system. It’s sort of the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats together. We need to improve communication within and across institutions so that everyone works collaboratively to create a more educated Georgia. I also believe we need more consistent access to real-time metrics. I’d like to see more use of data dashboards that make outcomes transparent, enable us to hold each other accountable and provide a clear view on what is working well and what needs to be changed. I intend to engage everyone in USG in the service of these goals, and more.
In pursuing our goals, it is also critical to advance as a team so that the whole of our university system is greater than the sum of its parts. To capture this sense of teamwork, I like to use the metaphor of a ‘flywheel’ first proposed by teacher and scholar Jim Collins. USG is like a giant flywheel that will spin faster if all of us put our hands on it and then push in the same direction. By paying close attention to data, we will know which direction to push in so that we advance our best practices. By improving communication within and across institutions, we will reduce friction in the system so that we work better together and recognize all contributions as we see our hands and those of others pushing the flywheel – ensuring the proverbial left hand knows exactly what the right hand is doing. As we team up to turn the flywheel bit by bit, it will begin moving forward faster and faster by its own momentum and help us become the premier university system in the nation.
With the energy that I feel around USG, I am optimistic we will be making tremendous progress over the next few months and into the coming years. In fact, significant progress has already been made on our goals of affordability and transparency. I recently announced a new, one-stop website called Georgia Degrees Pay. The site will help our students, families, taxpayers and other stakeholders compare how much it costs to attend any of our schools, how well our institutions help students be successful and how much in potential future earnings graduates can look forward to. Prospective students will be able to make informed decisions regarding which institutions fit their needs and ambitions best, while having easy access to extensive information including system initiatives and financial aid options. The site will keep developing as we add more and more data to help Georgians make good decisions. And this is just one of many ways in which we will be harnessing data to improve transparency and decision-making.
What I ask of you as we work on this is to support one another and own the expertise you have. I had the opportunity recently to attend the USG Staff Council Conference at Georgia Gwinnett College, and one of the things we discussed was how important it is for all of us to work together toward our common mission. I want your input and ideas because you are our experts. Please send those ideas to: firstname.lastname@example.org. This also means the system has a responsibility to support you in your professional development, and you will be seeing more efforts to do this.
I know how challenging the past two and a half years have been. You have had to work harder than ever before, yet that work is as vital as ever. There are many jobs and careers in this world, but there are not many that enable you to change a person’s life or the trajectory of their family. Whether you are awarding financial aid, serving meals on campus, driving buses from one end of campus to another, advising student organizations, mowing the lawn, paying invoices, counseling employees on benefits, teaching a class or everything in-between, what you do matters. It takes every one of us to create an environment where students can learn and realize their full potential. Without you, our students’ life-changing experiences in higher education could never happen.
So, if nothing else, let me simply say thank you. This is a noble mission to which we contribute, and we have important work that is meaningful to the more than 340,000 USG students across the state. The university system needs you, and our students need you. I hope you have been re-energized this fall as the students began the semester. As you interact with them, I hope you experience the personal fulfillment that comes with working in higher education. I cannot overstate how important every single one of us is to the success of our students. Because of you, they have the life-changing opportunity to better their family’s quality of life. That is no small thing. And what you do to help them on that journey is no small matter.
I am grateful for all you do. I hope we can continue our dialogue and look forward to a great academic year.