Augusta University will receive nearly $16 million to advance the institution’s undergraduate and graduate education and launch STEM education opportunities to K-12 students in rural Georgia, following approval by Gov. Brian Kemp for the Year 2022 budget.
Kemp held a news conference May 11 at the Augusta Regional Airport as part of the last stop of his four-city tour marking his signing of the budget. During his remarks, he commended Augusta University’s role in accelerating COVID-19 testing throughout the state, and the Medical College of Georgia in rising to the challenge to address the state’s physician shortage.
“They’ve been incredible how they’ve helped us,” Kemp told The Augusta Chronicle. “Dr. [Brooks] Keel really mentioned a lot today of what they’ve done — everything from testing to making PPEs and obviously helping get the vaccine out. It’s really bringing the community together to do that, and it’s quite honestly what’s made us be able to weather this pandemic better than most.”
Augusta Univerity President Brooks A. Keel, Ph.D. said, “We are grateful for the continued support of Gov. Kemp and state lawmakers as Augusta University and the Medical College of Georgia work to improve access to quality health care for citizens across our state, especially those in Georgia’s rural and underserved communities. As the state’s only public academic medical center, Georgia is our campus, and we remain humbled at the opportunity to serve in this critical way.”
Included in the budget is $7.8 million to increase the fifth tier of the University System of Georgia’s Formula Funding to continue supporting the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University with expanding class sizes — already one of the largest in the nation — to continue addressing Georgia’s physician shortage. Additionally, the state allocated $5.2 million to match the Peach State Health Plan’s gift given to the medical college in March as another effort in supporting students who commit to serve in rural Georgia after graduation.
MCG has the 10th largest class size among the nation’s more than 150 allopathic medical schools and is set to increase its enrollment from 240 students per class to 260 beginning with the 2021-22 academic year, with plans to grow to 300 students per class over the next five years.
Beginning with the MCG Class of 2024, the medical school’s 3+ curriculum provides a more efficient pathway into primary care for a percentage of its students. The MCG 3+ Primary Care Pathway would see some students graduate in three years and enter directly into a Georgia primary care residency program. In exchange for a service commitment to an underserved area of the state, and dependent on future funding, those students would receive a scholarship to cover their tuition.
“As the state’s public medical school, it is our mission and our responsibility to address the state’s growing physician shortage,” said MCG Dean Dr. David Hess. “I am very grateful that Gov. Kemp and our state legislators have made these additional funds available because it allows us to expand our mission of educating more physicians for Georgia, especially to serve underserved Georgia, which still describes the majority of our state.”
In addition to the formula funding, the budget allocated $241,000 to grow MCG’s Forensic Pathology Fellowship with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Medical Examiner’s Office. With this funding, the medical school will establish new tactics to increase the fellowship’s recruitment and retention efforts.
The budget also includes $5 million to renovate the exterior of Christenberry Fieldhouse to replace the synthetic stucco and address other issues within the walls. The fieldhouse, which opened in 1991 on the Forest Hills Campus, is home to the university’s volleyball and basketball programs as well as the administrative offices of Augusta University Athletics and College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fieldhouse served as one of Augusta University Health’s drive-through testing sites, where nearly 20,000 people were tested.
Additionally, the state will give $1.2 million toward the Georgia Cyber Center’s Rural Coding Project, designed to deliver high-quality STEM education opportunities to students in rural areas who would otherwise have no such access.
This project includes the creation of an open-source interactive learning platform and crowdsourced learning materials. By leveraging the collective knowledge of STEM experts all over the country, the center will supplement CTAE teachers in the classroom with a low-cost curriculum that would be unaffordable if received at the district level.
The state also allocated $100,000 toward the expansion of the five-year research partnership of the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University and the Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development at Clark Atlanta University in studying prostate cancer and positive patient outcomes.
The goal of the partnership is to form a framework of collaboration between the clinicians from both institutions to advance the understanding and education of prostate cancer. Research will include cellular biology, tissue analysis, biomarkers, detection, prevention and treatment.