USG chancellor addresses business community

Henry “Hank” Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, updated the local business community, Thursday, on the state of higher education in Georgia –– as he sees it.

Huckaby spoke during the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's "SunTrust Early Bird Breakfast," held at Clayton State University, in Morrow.

Before giving his assessment, however, he lightened the mood with a jovial jab at former Clayton State University president, Harry Downs, recalling the time when he was offered a job by Downs as the first director of admissions and registration at the school.

Huckaby said he was unable to negotiate a higher salary with Downs, and as a result, declined the job offer. “Those of you who know Harry Downs know he is very parsimonious with the money,” he said, to which the members of the business community erupted in laughter.

He then told the audience he was proud to note that two schools in the University System of Georgia are ranked among the “Top 25” universities in the country: Georgia Tech, at number 7, and the University of Georgia, 23rd.

He said that, after completing his 10th college campus visit, recently, he noticed three things that need serious attention: “Performance, partnership, and advocacy.”

One of his biggest concerns, he said, is that he believes a lot of emphasis is being placed on getting students admitted to college, but not enough is being done to keep them there to complete their education.

There is a new climate when it comes to education, he said, and some of that is driven by the distressed economy. It is affecting student performance, he said, and what they will have to offer to society and industry, because more of them are not completing their degrees or certificate programs while in college.

“In the next 10 years, the jobs will require individuals who have completed college or have some form of a college degree,” said Huckaby. Right now, he said, individuals meeting that criteria in Georgia make up only 34 percent of the eligible population, which is only about half as many as it should be.

“We have a heck of a gap to try to fill over the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us to work together [to fill that gap.]”

Tim Hynes, president of Clayton State University, agreed with Huckaby and said, “We must do a better job in helping all of our students succeed.”

In an effort to help students who are not completing their college education, Huckaby said the university system will introduce a program called, “To Complete College America,” which is sponsored by a number of foundations throughout the country, and should give schools and students additional tools.

He added that Gov. Nathan Deal is in the beginning stages of revising the funding formula for the university system, to take into account student-success measures that will be based on student performance.

“The governor wants to have that in place, so it will affect the budget for the [2014 school year],” he said. The new revision to the funding formula will mean that colleges will have to “do a better job in supporting students, and ensure they are completing their programs and getting their degrees.”

As far as students completing their college degrees or certificate programs at Clayton State University, Hynes said the school is on the right track. And because of the quality of education it offers, enrollment has increased.

“[This is due to] transfer students coming back to Clayton State to finish their degrees, and an increase in retention rates,” he said.