With record-setting enrollment this fall of more than 9,630 students and research funding climbing to $181.6 million in 2021, Dr. Neil J. MacKinnon, the new provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said Augusta University truly offers students, faculty and staff an “experience like no other.”
“I’m pleased to announce that this will be our sixth consecutive year of enrollment growth at Augusta University,” MacKinnon said at the seventh annual Fall Kick-Off this week, adding that the total enrollment has increased by 16% since 2015. Final enrollment numbers will be released later this fall. “We’ve also had a huge change in our student body since 2013. We’ve had a 28% increase in student minorities. We have a very diverse student body, which should be commended.”
In addition, MacKinnon said Augusta University will offer 154 academic programs in 2021, which is almost a 40% increase from the 111 academic programs offered prior to consolidation of the Medical College of Georgia and then-Augusta State University in 2012.
“We have some new students this fall that were not here before because these programs didn’t exist,” MacKinnon told the faculty and staff gathered in the Hull McKnight Building at the Georgia Cyber Center on Monday, Aug. 9. “We have two new degrees: Master of Science in Epidemiology and our first PhD program in the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences. What a signature moment for that school to have its first doctorate program.”
MacKinnon also said Augusta University has a new undergraduate certificate in music industry studies and a new concentration in social media influence for the Master of Arts in Intelligence and Security Studies, both of which will begin this fall.
As far as the university’s research and scholarship activity, MacKinnon said Augusta University has a lot to be proud of over the past five years.
“If you look at 2016, collectively, our researchers in total awards received $107.6 million,” MacKinnon said, pointing out that the level of sponsored awards remained fairly the same from 2016-2019. “Then, last year, there was a huge increase up to $159 million. Now, some of you might have thought, ‘Well, maybe that was a couple of big grants. Maybe we had a lucky year.’ Look at this past year: $181 million. A grant record for our university. This is a huge success.”
Future growth with TRIBA
MacKinnon said he is also excited about the new Transdisciplinary Research Initiative in Inflammaging and Brain Aging, known as TRIBA, which is being led by Dr. Babak Baban, an immunologist and associate dean for research at The Dental College of Georgia, and Dr. Mark Hamrick, a bone and muscle biologist and senior associate dean for research in the Medical College of Georgia.
This research will be a collaboration of six different colleges at Augusta University, MacKinnon said.
Earlier this year, Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel, PhD, announced the formation of this new transdisciplinary faculty research cluster in “inflammaging” and brain aging, which will be the focus of a three-year recruitment effort to grow the university’s research footprint.
As people get older, they experience a low-level of inflammation, described as “inflammaging,” driven by an increase in molecules in the blood called cytokines. This age-related inflammation has been linked to serious chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, type II diabetes and cancer.
The main feature of the aging process is chronic and progressive inflammation, which is a significant risk factor in morbidity and mortality. While most age-related diseases include inflammation, its potential cause and role in adverse health outcomes is still widely unknown.
Beginning in fiscal year 2022, Augusta University will initiate cluster recruitment for faculty research positions to study age-related diseases. Two positions will be added to the Medical College of Georgia and one each to the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences, The Dental College of Georgia, and the colleges of Nursing, Allied Health Sciences and Science and Mathematics.
That number is expected to grow in years two and three with the anticipated recruitment of two additional faculty positions within MCG and one additional position in the other participating colleges each year.
“It is a $15 million investment over three years and it will be recruiting up to 15 to 20 new faculty members,” MacKinnon said. “We are very excited. Many of the new researchers will be on the fourth floor of the university’s new College of Science and Mathematics building on the Health Sciences Campus.”
AU’s economic impact
Augusta University has also had an enormous impact on Georgia’s economy, MacKinnon said.
In fiscal year 2020, Augusta University and AU Health System provided a $2.8 billion boost to the state economy, according to a new report from the University System of Georgia.
The USG’s annual economic report showed an overall impact of $18.6 billion, with 155,000 jobs directly or indirectly generated by the system. Augusta University and AU Health are responsible for more than 22,000 of those jobs, MacKinnon said.
“Of course, this is more of a quantitative number. If you think of all the qualitative ways we impact individual lives, collectively we should be proud of that as well,” he said. “We definitely have an economic impact in Augusta and beyond.”
In fact, Augusta University has such an incredible impact across the state and beyond that it is time the university starts bragging about itself a little more, MacKinnon said.
Augusta University consists of a lot of “humble people doing great work,” but they don’t want to boast about their accomplishments, MacKinnon said.
“We need to do a better job of showing others what we’re doing,” he said, adding the university recently launched a new campaign, “Like No Other.” “We are certainly distinctive. And that ‘Like No Other’ handle really showcases who we are.”
The university’s strategic plan
The future is bright and Augusta University is working hard to meet Keel’s goal of having 16,000 students by 2030, MacKinnon said.
“We are working on a strategic enrollment management plan that will provide the roadmap to get there,” he said.
During the Fall Kick-Off, Keel joined MacKinnon in explaining the importance of the development of Augusta University’s 2022 Strategic Plan.
While the current strategic plan, Beyond Boundaries, has guided the institution along a path of success, Keel said he is excited about the accomplishments that will be coming over the next five years under a refreshed strategic plan.
“Despite the past year’s hardships, our university community has repeatedly proven its strength and ability to stretch beyond what we thought was possible — aligning our actions with our mission to provide leadership and excellence,” Keel said. “The strategic planning process provides an opportunity for our institution to continue along that path of distinction and greatness.”
Keel said there are five strategic focus areas in the plan: learning, discovery, student success, stewardship and community. There are also three interwoven priorities: innovation, engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion.
As part of the strategic plan, Keel asked faculty and staff to complete a Strategic Planning Stakeholder Engagement Form by Aug. 24 so the university can develop an initial draft.
“We’ve developed the skeleton of it. Now, it’s time for you to help put the actual meat on those bones,” Keel said. “It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for us to truly set the stage for what we do in the next five years at this university.”