University of Georgia President Michael F. Adams
University of Georgia President Michael F. Adams

University of Georgia President Michael F. Adams visited the Brookhaven Rotary Club to talk about the importance of public education to Georgia’s growth.

“The future of the state of Georgia runs through Athens,” Adams told the group at the Capital City Country Club on Aug. 31.

He said this year the university is operating at the same amount of funding it received from the state in 1998, which presents several challenges.

“We have more students, more facilities and more programs,” Adams said. “Public higher education in this state has always focused on broad access. … We’ve been able to do so with strong state funding, which has never been an issue in this state until the last three or four years.”

Adams hopes to avoid making up the gap in funding with higher tuition.

“We are increasingly under pressure … to do what some, like our friends in Virginia and Michigan have already done, which is to privatize, go to a very high tuition, high-aid model,” Adams said. “Once we begin to do that, we have walked away from that responsibility to be that avenue to upward mobility for middle-class kids. The entire social fabric of the state will continue to change and the separation of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ will be exacerbated.”

Adams said the University of Georgia continues to be one of the best public universities in the country.

The university accepted its biggest freshman class this year, with 5,500 students. Of those, he said, well over half were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes and their average GPA is a 3.8.

But along with success, there are still challenges that Georgia needs to overcome, Adams said.

“About 40 percent of high schools in this state, public or private, are not very good. But about 40 percent of high schools in this state are very, very good,” Adams said. “The sad thing is the division between those two is less and less. And that has broad social fiscal and political implications for the future of this state, if we don’t figure out some way to bring that bottom 40 percent up.”
He said the Hope Scholarship has done a lot to change the academic culture in the state.

“It’s allowed us to create an intellectual critical mass,” Adams said. “It was what Gov. (Zell) Miller wanted. His goal was to keep the smartest people in the state.”