April 22, 2016

Dr. Cecil P. Staton Delivers 2016 State of the University Address

NOTE: You can watch a complete replay of this event at http://esenetworks.com/player.aspx?id=5847&content-id=57148

VALDOSTA — Dr. Cecil P. Staton, interim president of Valdosta State University, delivered the 2016 State of the University Address today (Friday, April 22) in Whitehead Auditorium.

With a focus on the 2015-2016 academic term, Staton presented a year in review, as well as addressed initiatives that have been undertaken at VSU since his arrival on campus in early July 2015, nearly 10 months ago. 

Below is a transcript of his speech: 

Good afternoon and thank you very much for joining us for this State of the University Address at Valdosta State University. There is an old saying that “time flies, whether you are having fun or not. The choice is yours.” It seems impossible that 10 months have passed since I joined the VSU community as Interim President. Catherine and I have enjoyed our time with you, and we are grateful for the warm welcome we have received in Valdosta and the many new friends we have made on and off campus. This is a special place.

These have been busy but productive and rewarding days. Higher education, and particularly public higher education, is in a state of flux across our nation. We are in uncertain times in which we must do our jobs while waters are shifting beneath us, and it is very unlikely that this will change anytime soon. We have faced reduced state funding over several years. We can be grateful, however, that, unlike many other states, system funding has stabilized and even increased in Georgia recently. I am grateful to Governor Nathan Deal and the General Assembly for supporting a 3 percent merit pool for salary increases in the 2017 state budget. Although this does not fully catch us up for the years that brought no raises, it is a positive change that reflects an improving economy. But we should not expect state funding to return to pre-recession levels anytime soon. As Chancellor Hank Huckaby has reminded us many times, we face what is a new normal.

State funding as a proportion of our budget peaked at 64 percent in 2007, just before the recession began. For our budget this year, our state appropriation accounts for only 43 percent of our budget. This has led to increased tuition for our students as well as significant budget cuts over several years.

We have also faced declining enrollment for an extended time. We are not alone as many of our sister institutions have also faced declines, particularly those in South Georgia. Our enrollment peaked at around 13,000 in 2011, and the fall of 2015 saw enrollment at VSU drop to 11,300 students.

Another challenge we face is the growing impact of distance learning, which is related to the disruptive nature of technology. The advancement of technology has disrupted so many aspects of our economy. Higher education has been impacted as many students, due to the recession or other economic pressures, are staying nearer home and taking advantage of e-learning options or colleges and universities closer to home.

We cannot ignore this reality, and we must do distance education and do it with outstanding quality. This year, VSU had 2,048 students fully online, and more than 4,260 students taking at least one course online. This, together with overall enrollment declines, has had a negative impact on such things as athletics funding and PPV project bond debt, such as student housing, which are funded by student fees not charged to online students.

All of this has presented us with significant economic challenges. As a public institution we must operate without a deficit, and moreover, we must operate responsibly to preserve the institution and its mission, and prepare it for growth yet again when opportunities present themselves.

I want to publicly thank Valdosta State University, its faculty, staff, and students, for the cooperation received at the beginning of this academic year when it was necessary for us to make difficult cuts in our budget, with the resulting elimination of faculty and staff positions that take effect July 1 this year. While other institutions continue to struggle in this regard, we have taken action to position VSU for growth and for a vibrant future that will lead to academic success for our students and a continuing positive intellectual, economic, and cultural impact upon the region we serve.

Fortunately in many other respects this has been an incredibly successful and rewarding year. It is easy to lose sight of what has been accomplished, so let me pause to remind you. In July a new Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs was appointed. During this year, we appointed a new Vice President for Business and Administration, an Interim Vice President for Student Affairs, an Interim Dean for the Dewar College of Education and Human Services, and an Interim Executive Director of Enrollment Services. During the year three new Deans were named, including those for the Honors College, Graduate School, and College of Nursing and Health Sciences. We completed a search for a new Internal Audit Director, as well as a search for a new Chief Legal Affairs Officer, and we employed a Director of Government Affairs. We are about to conclude a search for a new Vice President for Student Affairs, with an announcement coming very soon.

Certainly another positive for this institution lies in the success we have had in fundraising. During this year, our capital campaign — Invest, Ignite, Inspire — has continued to make progress at a brisk pace. As of today, in this fiscal year we have raised, $11,339,416, and the total for the campaign, including gifts in hand, pledges, and bequests, stands at $46,646,000. This is the result of 18,000 gifts, the average gift being $2,700. We are at 88 percent of our five-year goal of $53.25 million in 35 percent of the five-year campaign period. This success is a testament to a committed team of University Advancement professionals under the leadership of Vice President John Crawford — but even more to the commitment of our graduates and our community who love VSU and believe in its future.

And I offer my congratulations to Bonnie Martin, Director of Accounting for the Division of University Advancement and CFO of the VSU Foundation, who was recognized this year with the Award of Excellence for Advancement Service by the Georgia Education Advancement Council.

One of the most important things to take place this year has been our VSYOU marketing campaign. VSU was asked to make an unprecedented $2 million investment in marketing this year in order to reverse recent enrollment declines. This campaign focused on digital media to reach traditional age prospective students and their parents and on more traditional media to improve our brand awareness. 

This media campaign, together with investments in recruiters on the ground, has led to an increase in applications of nearly 60 percent over last year. As of today we have more than 3,000 more applicants than a year ago today. Our admittances are up approximately 22 percent as we have admitted 1,700 more students than a year ago today. This leads us to the conclusion that we may see a significant increase in the freshman class this fall, for the first time in five years.

Now before we sit back and congratulate ourselves, we must remember that the smaller freshman class of 2015, down 10 percent from the previous year, will be sophomores next year and so the declines of recent years will stay with us for several years to come. This means our marketing and rebranding efforts will have to be sustained. Our state funding is based upon credit hour production, and this upon a two-year lag. So our funding and budget challenges will not be over because of a single increased freshman class. Our projections, however, are enormously hopeful and encouraging. I want to express my gratitude to our Interim Executive Director of Enrollment Services Tee Mitchell, Interim Admissions Director Ryan Hogan, and their dedicated staff for a great year, which I am confident will lead to enrollment gains this fall.

Let me also mention two Presidential Task Forces that have been at work across campus this year. The VSU 70/80 Presidential Task Force was created last fall and has been very active as they seek ways to increase retention rates. {PP # 12} Members of this task force and many dedicated faculty have volunteered to engage in the John Gardner Institute, a three year project to examine gateway core courses with high DFWI grades, and to support other initiatives designed to improve retention at VSU. I want to thank Dr. Travis York, who left us to work in Washington, and to Drs. Harrell and Grimes for chairing this significant effort.

And then I want to mention the Presidential Task Force on Diversity that is being chaired by Tony Thomas, our Chief Legal Affairs Officer, and thank them for their work to carefully review our efforts to ensure that Valdosta State not only espouses a commitment to diversity but also makes sure we have an environment where diversity is valued and all students feel comfortable and free to be who they are and share their opinions in the spirit of our Blazer Creed, which values civility, integrity, and citizenship.

Let’s be honest, sometimes it is easier to focus upon the negative than the positive, and human nature being what it is, there are some people who will always do that first. Fortunately, a closer look at our university community reveals that there are many, many things to celebrate and be grateful for. For a few minutes, I now want to share more of those things with you.

Let’s begin with Academic Affairs, which is the heart of a great university.

At the beginning of this academic year VSU made the commitment to create a $1 million Innovation Fund to award grants for ideas that can lead to improved enrollment, higher student retention, student success, and higher graduation rates. The first Project Innovate grants have been awarded to deserving projects with creative and innovative ideas for improving our teaching, services, and support of students. As a comprehensive university in the midst of a rapidly changing educational landscape, VSU must be prepared to be a leader in our region, our state, and in the world. The funded projects are the seeds that have the potential to grow and have a major impact on what we do on this campus. I am grateful to all who submitted projects and to the committees that vetted them. We look forward to hearing about their impact upon our university and our students in the days to come.

A competency-based initiative for teachers in math and science certification is part of a broad personalized learning movement from which VSU has gained national attention. We have received grants from the Georgia Department of Education and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and have been recognized by the Board of Regents as the state leader in competency-based education.

The Dual Credit Academy has been established to accommodate the multiple ways high school students are able to enter VSU classrooms. Online, VSU faculty teaching on the high school campus, students attending courses on our campus, or compressed video synchronously delivered to students at a rural high school distant from VSU are creative ways we are accommodating the needs of our regional high school students while increasing VSU enrollment.

An initiative I am very excited about, SmartPath Core begins this fall, and through the hard work of department faculty and members of the Office of Extended and E-Learning, students will now be able to have the option of taking the core online with most courses provided in an eight-week time frame. In conjunction with this is the development of low- or no-cost textbooks and, using Open Education Resources, we have taken seriously the chorus of complaints about the high cost of textbooks. Higher education must be affordable to students without taking on excessive debt, and we are proactively addressing this issue. We estimate that our efforts are currently saving our students approximately $500,000 annually in textbook costs.

We have taken the first steps in transforming advising on the campus of VSU. Consultants from the National Academic Advising Association visited our campus for several days this spring and recently completed their report. It provides a road map as we move toward an organized, coherent, and efficient means of advising that ensures a robust support system for student success.

Similar to advising, consultants from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association also visited our campus for several days this spring as we look to organize and coordinate our e-learning and community outreach efforts. Their report also provides the foundation of ideas from national experts, which can be crafted to suit the needs of our campus and community.

The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathmatics) Center for Applied Creativity and Innovation was opened this year and has had a tremendously positive response. The center will provide teachers with innovative tools for engaging students in these areas. Members of the community and local schools have already reserved the building for various activities. An official ribbon cutting will be forthcoming.

A number of accolades have come our way this year and those should be recognized.

VSU earned the Summer 2015 University Business Models of Excellence Award for using data to improve retention, academic success, campus life engagement, and graduation rates.

VSU earned the 2015 Excellence in Rehabilitation Award from The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation for the two-year, two-phase McKey-Seago House project.

VSU earned a spot on the 2015-2016 National Association of Student Personnel Administration Lead Initiative, based on its commitment to encouraging and highlighting the work of student affairs in making civic learning and democratic engagement a part of every student’s college education.

VSU’s Exercise Physiology Program earned initial accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

The National Council on Teacher Quality named VSU’s James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services a Top 5 Best Value in Georgia.

OnlineColleges.net named VSU one of 2015’s Most Affordable Online Colleges in Georgia.

VSU was named one of the best colleges and universities in the nation when it comes to distance education by U.S. News and World Report. VSU earned coveted spots on the publication’s 2016 Best Online Graduate Education Programs, 2016 Best Online MBA Programs, and 2016 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs lists.

OnlineU and Best Social Work Programs named VSU’s Master of Social Work Program one of the most affordable in the nation.

Accredited Schools Online named VSU one of the Best Online Schools in Georgia for 2015-2016. VSU also received accolades for being among the Best for Women in Technology (schools for women interested in technology or engineering) and Best Schools Fighting for Families (schools for students interested in social work). 

CEO Magazine named the Georgia WebMBA one of 2016’s top ranking Global MBA Programs.

TheBestSchools.org and AffordableCollegesOnline.org named VSU one of the Best Online Colleges in Georgia for 2015-2016.

VSU’s Department of Social Work earned $170,560 in grant funds through the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services’ Title IV-E Child Welfare Education Program to help support Master of Social Work students committed to careers in child welfare services.

VSU’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences opened a new, state-of-the-art Center for Exercise Medicine and Rehabilitation.

And we should mention, that since the start of the academic year, we have recognized 3,700 student achievements with hometown news releases. More are rolled out every week. Before the end of June, more than 7,000 student achievements will be recognized.

Other initiatives undertaken this year include:

Piloted Blazers Expect Success Timeline or BESTprogram, to help students on academic probation identify and utilize strategies and resources to overcome obstacles. (Spring 2016)

The Department of Mathematics and Computer Science was restructured into two academic departments to better fit the college’s mission and accreditation guidelines. (Effective July 1, 2016)

Successful initial accreditations: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) [Exercise Physiology]. (July 16, 2015)

Successful reaccreditations: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). (October 2015)

Reaccreditations waiting on formal decision: ABET for Computer Science. (Anticipated November 2016) and Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)

Submitted VSU’s SACSCOC 5th Year Interim Report. (Mailed March 9, 2016), with many thanks to Michael Black for his detailed work on this important report

New degrees approved by the USG:BFA in Emergent Media and Communications (EMAC), which begins Fall 2017, and MAT in Music Education, which begins Summer 2017

Converted printed academic catalog to online format. (Live in October 2015)

Redesigned infrastructure and converted the Faculty Portal into the Success Portal. (March 2016)

Redesigned existing Excellence Awards program into the Presidential Excellence Awards. (Nov. 2015)I want to thank Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Brian Gerber for his leadership this year. We are making good progress towards innovation across the academic mission of VSU.

If we turn to Student Affairs:

We have a new functional training room in the Campus Recreation Center.

Dr. Archibald presented at two international and national conferences on how participation in intramural sports contributes to student retention.

Shawn Phippen was appointed to the Programming Committee for NIRSA Region II and GIRSA State Workshop.

Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. James Archibald, Dr. Gerald Williams, Mrs. Lynette Williams, and Mrs. Brenda Johnson, each received a Caught You Caring Card.

Three Graduate Students in the Division of Student Affairs received nominations for the Graduate Student of the Year Award.

VSU’s team won the Flag Football National Championships for the second year straight!

Plans for updated intramural fields are underway.

Initiated FONEMED, after hours nurse triage/ “on call” service which has allowed us to provide coverage when we are closed.

Started People Advocating for Responsible Choices (PARC) organization.

In the Summer 2015, June/July, we operated the first GHP nurse medication dispensing station in the residential hall (Langdale)

And of course I want to mention some new traditions started this year, including our On Fridays We Wear Red emphasis as well as our new campus spirit march traditions and the Spring Summer Concert which students enjoyed last Friday.

When we turn to Finance and Administration, we find that this year several services were consolidated in order to find cost savings. Through attrition, we eliminated several positions at the director level and many other positions at other levels. We combined jobs to reduce the need to rehire in some positions. For example, Central Warehouse and Campus Mail Services now report to Physical Plant. Environmental and Occupational Safety report to the Police Chief.

There were a number of significant Campus Facility projects funded by the State, underway this year.

The STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math - Center opened this year after a renovation of Martin Hall, the former College of Nursing building.  

Work is underway now to renovate the south end of the University Center for a Centralized Student Services Center.  It will be a "one-stop shop" for student services with the Bursary, One Card, Financial Aid, Centralized Advising, Registrar, Career Opportunities, and parking permit purchases all in one location. Should be fully operational by August.

Design is underway for a renovation of Pound Hall on North Campus.

At West Hall third phase of a renovation of the Air Conditioning System is being finished.  This summer the elevator in West Hall will be renovated.

At the North End of University Center, the Air Conditioning System will be renovated this summer.

And we successfully guided our $1.6 million small-cap project to renovate Pine Hall through the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly.

Physical Plant: A Campus Master plan was completed and we now have direction for coming years. Maintenance Section is continually looking for smart ways to reduce costs. They reduced the number of bulbs in overlit areas of the Odum Library, reducing lighting costs in those areas by 30 percent. They purchased air conditioning maintenance equipment to rely less on contractors for certain tasks, avoiding an estimated $50,000 this year. Physical Plant has also begun to renovate the signage on campus to further promote recruitment and retention.  The first sign installed is at the Admissions Building, a place where thousands of prospective students and parents arrive for campus tours.  Physical Plant will continue as funds are available to replace the signs that the outside community and prospective students need to see to promote the campus.  The next sign to be replaced will be at Baytree and Sustella, where much of the campus population traveling down Baytree will see as one of the first symbols of VSU.

Human Resources: Developed and delivered new Performance Management System. Reorganized to consolidate HR functions in one office and hired first-ever employee dedicated to performance management

Financial and Budget Services: Prepared for the upcoming year’s reductions one year in advance.

Clean Audit: VSU earned the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts Award of Distinction for Excellent Financial Reporting for its Fiscal Year 2015 annual financial report.

Auxiliary Services:Partner with Follett to bring the bookstore in better financial position. Rebid Dining Services – Will have Aramark as a new provider soon.

Public Safety: Campus Safety Committee reconstituted and meeting regularly. Emergency Management Plan revised; in review at USG. Updating the VSU Police Department to stay current with the ever-changing advances in law enforcement technology, including records Management System (RMS) and Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. This will streamline all aspects of data collection, organization, and retention. It will allow daily Clery queries as well as being compatible with software currently in use by the Judicial Affairs Department. Also, the VSU Police Department is currently the only department in the area that does not have Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs). MDTs are the in-car computer systems that allow officers to write reports in the field as well as provide them with vital data at their fingertips. This would mean that the officers would not need to return to the department to write reports or gather information and would allow them to stay in the field longer to increase officer visibility. Have had many beneficial training classes and exercises keeping the VSU Police Department up to date on current laws as well as ensuring the officers are well prepared to handle any situation that may arise. The training aspect of the VSU Police Department is essential in creating an environment conducive to learning and academics. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service named VSU a StormReady campus.

And then we must give a shout-out to Training Specialist Tim Yorkey who received the Chancellor’s Service Excellence Ambassador Award and to Rosezella Ward, director of employee administration and benefits, Robert Tindall, associate director of maintenance, and Brittany Smith, Administrative Secretary in the Student Success Center, who received the 2015 VSU Excellence in Service Awards.

And then we have to reference our superb athletics program at VSU.

Courtney Albritton won the Gulf South Conference Commissioner’s Trophy for the second straight year last summer, marking the fourth consecutive year in which a Valdosta State student-athlete has received the GSC's most prestigious honor.

Sixteen student-athletes earned GSC All-Academic recognition within the last year, and five of those were honored on a national level as All-American scholars.

The Valdosta State volleyball team saw eight of its 13 squad members achieve 4.0 GPAs during the fall semester. The team earned a collective team GPA of 3.70, the highest in program history.

Valdosta State Athletics set new records in the fall of 2015 for number of student-athletes to make the Dean’s List, number of student-athletes with perfect 4.0 GPAs, and number of teams to average a collective 3.0 GPA or higher.

Following a thrilling 35-point comeback in the fourth quarter of last year’s first round playoff game against Carson-Newman, Blazer football earned a trip to the second round of the 2015 NCAA Division II Playoffs. That game against Carson-Newman has to be one of the most exciting college football games I have ever witnessed. I’ll never understand why the stands are not filled for every home game with students, faculty, and staff, as well as community supporters.

Five different programs spent time during the 2015-2016 athletic season ranked among the NCAA’s top 25 teams in each of their respective sports.

And we were proud this year to welcome head football coach Kerwin Bell and his wife, Cosette, to the Blazer Nation!

And then we must congratulate Coach Hanson and our men’s tennis team for winning the Gulf South Conference title this year. I asked Coach Hanson how many of those he has won during his career, and he just replied, Well, in which conference? It’s a large number over a wonderful dedicated career at VSU that has impacted the lives of so many students. Let’s give Coach Hanson a hand.

Turning to financial aid and admissions:

Financial Aid undertook a major initiative to modernize the operations of the department and incorporated the most current technology and electronic services available in two key areas:

Financial Aid implemented QLess, a cloud based virtual cueing system for students and families who need in-person assistance from the Office of Financial Aid. The system was used extensively during the Fall and Spring fee payment periods when immediate walk-in service was not possible. The new QLess system allows students and their families to get in line from anywhere they have internet or phone service and be given an estimate of when they can be seen. They can then go about their day and arrive just in time to meet with a representative. The system provides updates to the student or family and informs them if they can be seen sooner or if a delay is necessary.  No one needs to stand in line for assistance any longer, and we can more readily respond to the demand for service because we have immediate access to information regarding wait times and the number of students or families in the cue.

Financial Aid also implemented NexGen’s Dynamic Forms systems. Dynamic Forms provides online forms with nationally recognized electronic signature capability for students and parents. Students and parents can complete the forms entirely online and the forms arrive electronically and are then loaded directly into the BDMS imaging system without ever touching paper. Now we can collect virtually every document electronically. This will speed the process of completing, submitting, and having financial aid forms processed and stored.


Gone completely electronic with processing of files, including applications, evaluation of transcripts, and test scores.

For Fall 2016, processed 8,500 applications, which has yielded 3,800 accepted students.

Orientation currently has over 500 students registered for a session.

Started University Ambassador program, which has 60 current members.

Increased the amount of communication with prospective students and applicants through direct mail and electronic messaging.

Doubled the amount of high school counselors that attended our second annual counselor retreat.

Currently up 34 percent in the number of daily campus tours.

Conducted three Open Houses, which set a record of over 3,000 total guests.

Held 17 V-State Experience events throughout Georgia and Florida, which had over 600 prospective students.

Well, from this brief survey, I hope we all can see that this has been a very busy and productive year. I hope this year in review has not caused your eyes to gloss over, or put you to sleep. Frankly, it makes me proud at how much has been accomplished in such a short period of time. As I grow older, I am constantly impressed by how quickly an academic year passes. Graduation is just around the corner, and the summer break is calling all of us.

I want to conclude by simply saying what a joy it has been to be with you this year. Valdosta State is a special place. It is obviously a beautiful place to come to work every day, but its real beauty is the people who teach, mentor our students, and work here, as well as our terrific students, and the members of this community who support us. I want to thank each and every one of you for a great year.

I am confident that the trajectory of Valdosta State is a positive one. There will always be some who find reason to complain and spread negativity, based upon their desire and, frankly, willingness to sacrifice the institution’s well being in order to advance their viewpoints, agendas, and even ideology. If this institution will reject that, resist those temptations, and instead chose the path of innovation and excellence, always putting our students first while embracing our mission of regional transformation, then our future potential is frankly unlimited.

Thank you for all that you do to make this a great university. And if I don’t see you before summer break begins, have a great summer, filled with pride in our accomplishments and hard work this year that I am confident provides a solid foundation for the work that is yet to be done and for Valdosta State to soar and become all it can be. Go Blazers!