The state Board of Regents Tuesday narrowly approved expanding the engineering program at Georgia Southern University to offer baccalaureate degrees in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering with classes set to begin in Fall 2011.
"There are defining in moments in the life of every major university," said Dr. Brooks Keel, GSU president. "The approval to offer engineering degrees at Georgia Southern is definitely one of the most notable in our institution's more than 100-year history. An adequate supply of engineers is critical not only to the goal of fostering a statewide environment that nurtures high-tech industry, but to the future prosperity of Georgia."
Along with expanding Georgia Southern's program, the 9-8 vote by the Regents also approved opening engineering programs at the University of Georgia.
Prior to Tuesday's approval, Georgia Tech was the only engineering school in the state and many in-state students were forced to explore out-of-state alternatives.
"We are very grateful for the support that we have received from the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents, the chancellor and his staff during this entire process," Kee said.
Some state legislators opposed approving an engineering school at UGA because they say the state shouldn't duplicate programs when it already has a campus dedicated almost entirely to engineering. The proposal even drew fire from Gov. Sonny Perdue, who spoke at the board meeting last month and urged the regents to move more slowly on starting expensive new programs.
Legislators, however, were supportive of Georgia Southern's expansion.
"I'm very supportive of Georgia Southern's programs, but that's a completely different kettle of fish than the startup at UGA," state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday.
Ehrhart heads the committee that oversees college budgets.
"I don't want to hear a word from UGA about any cries over budget cuts," Ehrhart said. "They have the money to do this. They must have found a pot of gold to afford this expensive program. As long as I'm chair of the committee, they won't get a dime for that engineering program."
But UGA President Michael Adams said the engineering program will help provide the state with more workers and draw more federal research dollars to the campus. He said the program can be started with existing money and will be phased in over five years.
"Ultimately, it's what's best for the state," Adams said after the meeting. "It's best that a research university have this option."
Despite concerns from many members of the board, the measure passed 9-8 after half an hour of discussion.
"There is definitely a demand for well-trained engineers with hands-on experience and Georgia Southern University is the perfect place to offer engineering programs," said State Sen. Jack Hill, R-Riedsville. "Georgia companies and those considering Georgia for their manufacturing operations or high-tech businesses continue to need well-trained engineers and supply continues to be an issue. Georgia Southern now joins a select few universities to offer engineering in the state and will help support not only one of the fastest growing areas in Georgia, but in the country."
Engineering at GSU
Georgia Southern has offered nationally accredited baccalaureate degrees in civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering technology for more than 30 years.
Also, Georgia Southern has offered the Regents Engineering Transfer Program and Georgia Tech Regional Engineering Program for nearly 20 years. The unique programs allows students who successfully complete freshman and sophomore level university core and engineering science courses the opportunity to transfer to Georgia Tech to complete their engineering studies.
Georgia Southern's existing engineering technology programs have seen a steady increase in enrollment in contrast to national trends. The in-state work retention percentage (or the number of graduates that begin their professional careers in-state following graduation) at Georgia Southern is estimated at 78.9 percent, far above other competing institutions.
"Georgia Southern's new engineering degrees will retain the applied nature of their engineering technology roots, but will allow the university to fulfill its evolving mission of teaching and research," said Bret Danilowicz, Ph.D., dean of the Allen E. Paulson College of Science and Technology. "These new programs will enable Georgia Southern to not only train engineering graduates that will be in high-demand by employers, but it will also allow us to significantly increase our ability to promote and develop the economy of Georgia."
The new degree programs initially will be housed within the College of Science and Technology, but officials said it is likely a new College of Engineering will be created to accommodate expected increases in student interest. GSU's existing engineering technology programs will be phased out as the three new engineering programs become established, allowing students currently enrolled to complete their program of studies.