Valdosta State University Strives to be an Agent of Change

Barbara Kieker

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

According to VSU President Dr. William McKinney, public colleges have reached a watershed moment.  Due to extensive cuts in state funding, this year more than 50 percent of funding for VSU is coming from tuition, fees and private support.

"With our funding structure, we look more like a private university.  Private schools tend to be more entrepreneurial and innovative and that's how we need to act," McKinney said.

Students are demanding from their universities more digital course offerings and more digital mobility.  The size of that demand became apparent in 2011 when two computer science professors at Stanford University offered a free artificial intelligence course online.  It was part of an experiment to bring higher education to parts of the world where it is not readily available.  More than 58,000 students – nearly four times the size of Stanford's entire student body – registered for the course.

"As a university, we have to be aware of what's happening in the region and world around us.  We want to be agents of change," McKinney said.

"Our goal is to be an engaged and innovative institution – a model for how higher education will work in the 21st century."

Leading Online Programs
VSU is leading the University System of Georgia's collaborative program – called eMajor – to deliver flexible online degree programs.  Open to students from any state, eMajor currently offers a degree in organizational leadership, coming next spring, degrees in office administration and technology, legal assistant studies and criminal justice.

"We've begun work to determine other programs that lend themselves to the eMajor program and have good momentum behind the effort.  It's exciting," McKinney said.

According to McKinney, VSU's graduate Public Administration programs are good examples of how successful online programs work.  The Master of Public Administration and Doctor of Public Administration programs are designed to prepare students for a career in public service, both in government and nongovernment organizations.  

"Public Administration courses are offered almost exclusively online.  Students from all over the state, region and around the world interact digitally for months on end and then meet face to face here in Valdosta for weekends peppered throughout the program.  It's a hybrid model and it's been wonderfully successful," McKinney said.

Enrollment Strategies
While enrollment at VSU is down slightly in 2012, it has grown steadily over the past five years.  However, total enrollment numbers mask a shift in the make-up of the student population.

"We've seen rapid growth in our doctoral and graduate programs while our entering undergraduate size has decreased over the last two years," McKinney said.
"Part of that is due to the economy and part is due to the fact that we raised our minimum required SAT scores as part of our enrollment strategy."

Public colleges nationwide graduate only 56 percent of students admitted, according to McKinney.  By raising required SAT scores, VSU hopes to admit students more apt to succeed.  However McKinney also acknowledges that the majority of students who leave without graduating do so for non-academic reasons.

"It could be for health reasons or economic or family – basically life happens.  So another part of our enrollment strategy is to be the first choice for students who are ready to return to their education.  We want to give them more options on their return, such as online programs," McKinney said.

An Economic Driver
VSU began as a teachers' college but has evolved its curricula to meet regional work force needs.  Today the highest enrolling programs at VSU include teacher preparation, public administration, health sciences, criminal justice and business administration.  The university received funding for a new health sciences facility that will open in January 2014.

"We want to be an economic driver for our region.  We partner with local leaders to identify target industries and support their needs for work force development and retention," McKinney said.

McKinney, who became VSU president earlier this year, is forming an advisory group consisting of business leaders and public sector leaders from the area.  The group will help McKinney and VSU fulfill its mission, which is to provide a solid education in select professions with a strong basis in liberal arts.

"We're fortunate to have a region that is so supportive of VSU and embraces our mission so heartily," McKinney said.

More information on Valdosta State University is available at

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.