Georgia College president faces economic challenges, sets goals

jmink@macon.comNovember 25, 2012 

MILLEDGEVILLE -- Steve Dorman has spent the past two months on a constant meet-and-greet. He’s been chatting with professors, mingling with students, attending sports events and working with other administrators to develop goals for Georgia College & State University.

“Right now, I’m in the process of listening,” he said. “All university presidents need to listen and listen well.”

Dorman took over as president of the university in September, replacing former President Dorothy Leland, who left the position last year to become chancellor of the University of California, Merced. When seeking presidential candidates, the university’s search committee was impressed with Dorman’s personality and communication skills, said Ken McGill, chairman of the search committee and chairman of the chemistry, physics and astronomy department.

“He’s a really good communicator, which is something we need these days,” McGill said. “And he’s got ... great people skills.”

Now Dorman is planning for his state of the university address in January. He is outlining his goals, developing a path for the university and identifying issues. One of the biggest concerns is financial hurdles for both administrators and students. “The current state of higher education is calling for people who can think outside the box,” he said. “How can we provide a liberal arts education for future students?”

Nationwide, higher education is plagued by money woes -- legislators and private donors are doling out less money to institutions, while many students go into serious debt to afford college. Recent national reports have questioned whether college is worth the rising price.

At Georgia College, student debt is below the national average, “but that’s not to say we don’t need to do more,” Dorman said.

One of his top goals is to increase student retention and graduation rates. Currently, 5,568 undergraduate students and 876 graduate students are enrolled at Georgia College -- enrollment for masters and doctorate programs has decreased slightly, mirroring the national trend, Dorman said.

Fifty-five percent of students pursuing bachelor’s degrees at Georgia College graduate within six years, according to 2011 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Many people start the university experience but don’t complete it,” Dorman said. He seeks to “find ways to help students get through the process and get through the process successfully.”

He also wants to position Georgia College to have a bigger economic impact on Milledgeville and Baldwin County. Like most areas nationwide, Baldwin County has faced some significant economic challenges, and Dorman hopes to lend a hand, he said. “Georgia College can be an economic leader,” he said. “We want to work with the community, and we can be a partner in doing that.”

As he spends the next couple of months developing strategies to meet his goals, Dorman faces another task: finding a way to accomplish those goals in the face of budget obstacles.

“Nationwide, higher education is facing cutbacks, and Georgia is no different,” he said. “So, that’s part of the challenge, trying to live in the new normal.”

During a recent budget meeting, McGill said he was impressed with Dorman’s ability to examine the financial state of the university and communicate his budget goals -- something McGill said is not easy to do these days.

“We hear a lot in higher education about the new normal, which means state appropriations are always going down,” McGill said. “I think he’s going to be a good person to help us navigate through these challenging times.”

Dorman is no stranger to education issues. The 55-year-old has spent his career as an educator and was most recently the dean of the College of Health and Human Performance at the University of Florida, where he also served as graduate coordinator for masters and doctoral students and led the masters of public health program. Prior to his work at Florida, he was head of the department of health and kinesiology at Texas A&M University. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Lee College in Cleveland, Tenn., and a master’s of public health in community health education and a Ph.D. in health education from the University of Tennessee.

During his leadership roles at both Florida and Texas, Dorman also taught classes -- something he hopes to continue at Georgia College. “I’m an educator at heart,” he said.

Contact writer Jenna Mink at 256-9751.

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