The state budget that Gov. Nathan Deal ceremonially signed Monday on Georgia Southern University's Sweetheart Circle includes $1 million for the university's new manufacturing engineering degree program and financing for a $33-million classroom building.
This was the second consecutive year that Deal held such a budget-signing event in front of the Marvin Pittman Administration Building with GSU President Dr. Brooks Keel and other university officials. The area's state representatives were in Atlanta, but Sen. Jack Hill attended, and Keel noted that the governor had been in the same place one year and 13 days earlier.
"We call on higher education, both in our college and university system and in our technical college system, to help us prepare the workforce of today and certainly the workforce of tomorrow," Deal said Monday. "For those institutions of higher learning, we continue to provide financial support."
In the fiscal year 2016 budget, Deal announced, Georgia Southern will receive "an additional $1 million from the state to begin its new advanced manufacturing degree program and to hire world-class faculty" for it.
Although the smaller of the two GSU spending items highlighted by the governor, the manufacturing program will be seen on campus first. The Board of Regents of the University System approved manufacturing engineering as a new Bachelor of Science degree for GSU in August, and classes are scheduled to begin this fall in the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology.
Only one in Southeast
Georgia Southern will have the only such program in the Southeast, Deal and Keel both noted. Answering reporters' questions after the ceremony, Keel said there are fewer than 24 manufacturing engineering degree programs in the entire country. The nearest are in Virginia and Texas. With the new program, Georgia Southern now offers bachelor's degrees in four engineering fields: civil, electrical, mechanical and manufacturing.
"It will shine a spotlight on Georgia Southern and southern Georgia to the rest of the world that we're serious about training a workforce and providing our students with the best education they can get to make them competitive in the marketplace," Keel said.
Like most of Georgia's state construction projects, Georgia Southern's planned Interdisciplinary Classroom Building will be paid for from bond debt rather than directly from taxes or other revenue. But the budget earmarks $33.6 million from state bonds for the project and provides cash to start making the payments.
The building will "provide much-needed space for classes essential to high-demand careers such as software developers, computer programmers, business support roles, mechanical and electrical engineering and advanced manufacturing," Deal said.
Called the Multidisciplinary Building, it will occupy space now held by the old Military Science Building, one of several "temporary" buildings of modular construction on the Georgia Southern campus. Last year, Deal announced $9.5 million bond funding, starting with the current year's budget, for construction of a new, permanent Military Science Building.
Georgia Southern has kept several temporary buildings, added during a period of rapid enrollment growth, in place for 20 years or more. The Interdisciplinary Classroom Building will replace four of them, with the largest being the Forest Drive Building, Keel said.
Planning on the Military Science Building continued after last year's announcement. Construction is now expected to begin this fall and should take about a year. So, the larger classroom building highlighted in this year's budget is probably about two years from completion, Keel acknowledged.
The added funding in the 2016 budget is "absolutely essential" and part of exciting new developments at Georgia Southern, he told reporters.
"It gives an opportunity to build a very much-needed multipurpose classroom building that's going to allow us replace some existing temporary space but also give us room for expansion, and it puts a million dollars into our operating budget that allows us to jumpstart our advanced manufacturing program," Keel said.
Deal also mentioned spending budgeted to agricultural programs. He noted that $360,000 has been added for employing more Cooperative Extension agents, "including one intended for Bulloch County."
With this year's budget, Deal and the Legislature also took a further step in restoring dollars for kindergarten through 12th-grade education cut from the per-student funding formula during the recession. In raw numbers, Georgia now spends more on education than ever before.
"My folks, as they've looked at the records, they tell me that my administration, in those five years, has put more money into education than any governor in the last 50 years, and that is altogether appropriate, and we're going to continue to do that," Deal said.
Deal also touted strong showings in recent revenue growth. A 15-percent month-to-month comparison increase from April 2014 to April 2015 set a record, he said, and the trend is now to annual growth of 7.1 percent.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.