In January, as the University of Georgia was wrapping up the search for its new president, I came across an open letter former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels wrote to the people of Purdue University, whose presidency he had just assumed.
The letter made so many good points about the role and future of higher education that I considered writing a column about it, along the lines of: “I don’t know who the next president of UGA should be, but he or she should think like this.” Before I did, UGA announced its next president. And he was thinking about Daniels’ letter, too.
In particular, Jere Morehead noticed this part of the missive:
“We should all remind ourselves every day that the dollars we are privileged to spend come, for the most part, from either a family or a taxpayer. We measure many activities by FTEs, full-time equivalents; we should likewise see every $10,000 we spend as an ‘STE,’ a student tuition equivalent. Any unnecessary expenditure of that amount could instead have enabled a student to attend Purdue for a full year.”
“I actually quoted that line in my interview,” Morehead told me last week in the office he keeps as UGA’s provost, across a foyer from the one he’ll occupy as president starting July 1. “That part resonated with me.
“Every time someone spends [the equivalent] of someone’s tuition here, they need to ask, is this a good expenditure?”
The past two decades have seen a revolution at the state’s flagship university. Much of the campus has been physically transformed since I was a student (full disclosure: Morehead headed UGA’s Honors Program during my final two years in it). The HOPE scholarship heightened the caliber of student recruited to Athens. Faculty credentials improved in kind.
All that took money. A lot of it.
But the HOPE of the future will be less generous. Tax collections are still growing sluggishly, so UGA’s state funding won’t soar anytime soon. Tuition and fees grew by more than 7 percent year-over-year only twice between fall 1991 and fall 2002, then did so in eight of the last 10 years, nearly tripling in a decade.
If the revolution is to continue, Morehead said, UGA will have to seek efficiencies and new sources of money.
“UGA is still showing up as a great value in all the publications” that measure such things, he said. “But I think both Georgia and Georgia Tech have to be sensitive to the ability that families have to send their children to college.
“And we will eventually reach a point where significant tuition increases will be difficult to sustain. Which makes the need of obtaining private support even more critical for the university.”
With that in mind, Morehead said one of his first big tasks will be raising money for endowed professorships, to retain and recruit top-flight faculty, and scholarships, to keep UGA attractive to top high school grads and accessible for those with financial needs.
“Our endowment is significantly smaller than many of the institutions that we compare ourselves to,” he said, naming the University of Florida ($1.26 billion), Georgia Tech ($1.61 billion), the University of North Carolina ($2.18 billion) and the University of Virginia ($4.79 billion).
By comparison, UGA’s invested assets were just $744 million. (All five figures come from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.)
Keeping UGA on the rise will require a capital campaign “in the range of a billion dollars or more,” he said. Raising $1 billion would give UGA about $40 million more in annual funding.
“We haven’t settled on a number,” he added. “But in this environment, I think those are the numbers we have to be talking about to be successful in what we have to do.”
Success, he said, means not only improving UGA academically, but working with its peers to drive more economic growth in the state.
“Seeing Georgia Tech and Emory and Georgia State and Georgia Regents University [in Augusta] and UGA all working together, I think, is important,” he said. “And I think that’s what the governor and the leaders in the state legislature expect us to do.”
– By Kyle Wingfield