New plans from Georgia State’s Senate — Pay raises, coronavirus policy and online class expansion

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On Feb. 13, Georgia State senators held their university senate meeting on the Clarkston campus to discuss what each community on campus has worked on and to introduce new projects that the university is planning.

Pay Raises

“Some areas where we still have some ambiguity is around pay raises,” Georgia State University President Mark Becker said. “The Governor did not recommend pay raises for state employees in general.”

This also included state employees who teach grades K-12.

The only state employees who were recommended for a raise were employees who make less than $40,000 a year. These employees were recommended to receive a fixed pay raise of $1,000. 

Becker said the university is still learning to whom this raise will apply. Their current understanding is that it only applies to those individuals who are paid through state funds. 

Individuals who are contract employees or paid through grants or tuition are not included. 

“This is a new world, this is a new budget allocation for us,” Becker said. 

It is not known if the institutions themselves will be distributing these raises or the University System of Georgia will. Becker included that he asked this question but has not received an answer. 

The Coronavirus (COVID-19)

“Even though there is not an epidemic in this country, it does affect the university system, certainly Georgia State University,” Becker said. 

The USG has passed a policy to cancel all study abroad trips to China for the remainder of the year. 

“I think it would be accurate to say, even though I’m not an expert on diseases, [that] we know less about this virus than we know about it,” Becker said.

Becker said that an individual asked if there were any concerns about taking a trip to Taiwan. As of now, there are a few cases of the virus there, so it was deemed unsafe to travel to it.

Georgia State has also created a working group to look at a particular case of individuals who were affected by the coronavirus. Becker said the group will not actively do anything immediately, but the purpose will be to obtain a better understanding of the virus just in case a student or member of the university becomes infected. 

The university also wants to be prepared just in case they are approached by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about participating in a mass vaccination of the institution. 

Online Learning 

Becker and Provost Wendy Hensel decided to have a conversation about the significance and importance of the online format. Hensel began the presentation with data from the online department: 

There are 500 online courses, 398 additional hybrid courses, which she said this translates to 1,700 fully online courses taken by more than 50,000 students. 

Hensel said that she knows from some of the teachers with whom she spoke that not everyone was excited about online programming.

“What these statistics should demonstrate to you is [that] it is really not a question of if we should go in this direction — it’s how can we do it,” she said.

Georgia State currently offers 27 online-hybrid degrees and 40% of Perimeter College students are fully online. 

Hensel felt that this plan to focus on the online programming is consistent with Georgia State’s mission: to be accessible for all students. 

“We know there are people who cannot come downtown for an education. We know we have non-traditional students. We know we have students who need flexibility who are traditional students,” she said. 

This plan is to help create innovative solutions for all Georgia State students and possibly reach people who are not students at Georgia State. 

Hensel then began to present data about Georgia State’s graduate program. She said that the increase from 6,921 students to 7,090 from 2015-2019 was entirely thanks to the online program. 

“66% of students enroll in an institution that is less than 50 miles from their home,” she said.

Hensel made it clear that people often associate these programs with allowing international students a way into the institution, but in reality, this will allow a pathway for citizens of Georgia to enroll in a program that will be of high quality. 

More than 49,000 students attend the Ashworth College online department in Dunwoody. According to Hensel, they are currently the top provider of online education in Georgia. Other USG schools have fewer than 10,000 students. 

To draw some momentum to the online program, Georgia State decided to offer certificates to students because they take a shorter time to receive. 

The USG decided to allocate funding for Georgia State associate’s degree and certificate programs because of data provided that showed an increase in numbers of students receiving them.

Georgia State is also reviewing enrollment data over the summer. 

Hensel said that they have realized that they lose many students over the summer to other online programs because Georgia State doesn’t offer enough online courses during the summer. 

The university is monitoring those numbers and will be making changes in response to them.

The first major that this online program will target is the largest major on the Perimeter Campuses: business administration.

The online program will allow students to finish their third and fourth years completely online to help students who are not able to attend on-campus classes in order to receive their bachelor’s degree.

Georgia State will also be putting together a list of online courses for courses with a large number of drops, fails or withdraws in hopes of increasing students’ success rate. 

Professors will also be able to attend master course modules where they collaborate with their colleagues to come up with superior online courses that will potentially help students learn better. Professors who choose to participate will receive funding from the administration of their departments. 

Online students will now be required to take a mandatory orientation course to ensure they understand what the class will detail throughout the semester. 

“Many students do not sign in until the the course had already begun, and then they realize they’re having technological issues. They don’t realize they actually have to self-structure through the courses,” Hensel said. “After you go to the mandatory orientation course online, then you will be able to proceed to your enrolled course.”

Students who have never attended a college or university before will be required to take a Freshman Learning Community course at all Perimeter campuses.

“Leadership for all of this will be through the office of the provost in part because all of this is academic quality,” Hensel said.