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UGA's Adams wants to keep state's best

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- University of Georgia President Michael Adams thinks UGA's mission today is not much different than it was when the university was founded in 1785.

"Two of the university's founders, Lyman Hall and Abraham Baldwin, felt that higher education is not just a matter of the higher good, but it is a matter of the public good," Adams said Thursday during remarks before the Albany Rotary Club at Doublegate Country Club. Adams later met with The Editorial Board of The Albany Herald.

"They said, 'Let's create a system that makes higher education possible for a wider portion of Georgia's population.' And to a great extent, that is our mission today. We want to keep the best minds of Georgia in Georgia."

Adams addressed several issues facing the University -- including budget problems, a growing enrollment and attempts to attract more minority students.

"Traditionally, until the last 24 months, we've had a strong, vibrant economy. Now we are trying to do more with less," the UGA president said. "Just over two years ago we were receiving $8,300 per student from the state. Today we are getting $6,200 -- that's at a level last seen in 1998. By contrast, the University of North Carolina is getting just over $9,000 per student.

"Our recent tuition bump did not help us much. We're down nearly 600 employees, and we are as lean and clean as we've ever been. The irony is we are up in money and donors because I think people know we really need the money."

Adams talked about UGA's enrollment, which stood at nearly 35,000 undergraduate and graduate students for the fall 2010 semester, a slight decrease from the same period last year.

"We are at a point right now where our preference is to stay at the same relative size that we are right now," Adams said. "We are trying to make the most effective use of our physical facilities. And we're straining."

Despite the strain, Adams, who is marking his 13th year at the UGA helm, said the school is making serious efforts to improve its minority enrollment.

"Our last incoming freshman class had the highest minority enrollment (23 percent) in our history," Adams said. "But just 8 percent were African-American; the largest percentage are Asians. Our biggest problem is here in Georgia we are dealing with one of the nation's highest dropout rates.

"The minority participation in higher education is still not where it needs to be in this state."

Of course, in the football-crazy South, Adams could not avoid being asked about the recent troubles of the Georgia Bulldogs and the future of head football coach Mark Richt.

"I will say this, I think Mark Richt is a very good football coach with a fine record to back that up," Adams said. "We've been to 14 straight bowl games in a very tough, competitive league (the Southeastren Conference). Now I don't know what happened at Colorado, South Carolina and Mississippi State ... but I think beating Auburn and Georgia Tech would make a lot of people happy.

"Regardless, if we have to make a call, that's why we have an athletic director (Greg McGarity). And just like every year, he and I will sit down after the season and evaluate the team's performance."