SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The numbers are bleak at Savannah State. The university is dealing with shrinking enrollment, dwindling retention rates, and a graduation rate well below the University System of Georgia average.
A new president takes over in July, on an interim basis, but with some serious challenges. The University System says changes are already underway. The University System of Georgia said there are no plans for consolidation or merger.
“I think that the history we have here is very sacred, and I think that we need to make sure we protect it at all costs,” said Jeffery Ruff, a third-year student.
The University System agrees with Ruff. Earlier this year, they sent a transition team to Savannah State. The tangible changes they’re making on campus are already available. The university rolled out a new computer system called Degree Works last week for students.
It allows them to track their progress and see what classes they need to graduate. In the past, many students didn’t know what they needed to graduate, according to people we spoke to with the University System.
“Some would probably argue that the transition team could’ve come sooner,” said Lamar Rhodes, an involved alumnus. “I’m just happy they came.”
Rhodes said the system’s resources have been invaluable. The transition team is also revamping the advising department so students can know what classes to take and when.
“I do think that they have made it very clear on how I need to go about my years at Savannah State to graduate and on time with the right classes and everything in order,” Ruff said.
Another big change is Momentum Year. It’s a concerted effort on campus that requires freshmen to take nine hours of classes involved with their major, instead of just core classes. The university is also encouraging freshmen to take 30 hours their first year. System leaders said research shows students who do this are more likely to stay in school and graduate.
“This team of experts is truly taking seriously their commitment to students and servicing students,” Rhodes said. “That was an issue we had. Those were some of the areas we had issues with in the past.”
The faculty cuts the university has seen are directly tied to decreasing enrollment and not to prepare for a consolidation, according to system leaders. More cuts are likely in the future as budgets shrink across the system.
As for enrollment, the USG said SSU can address that by marketing their graduate programs better, and that’s something they plan to do soon. Rhodes agrees; the future is bright at Savannah State with one qualifier.
“As long as Savannah State University continues to receive support from the system and remains a priority for the system, I think SSU will have a lot to offer,” Rhodes said.
Here is some good news when it comes to graduation rates at Savannah State: the graduating class this spring will be one of the largest in university history.
Kimberly Ballard-Washington takes over for Dr. Cheryl Dozier this summer. Ballard-Washington comes from the University System office. She previously served as interim president at Fort Valley State University and Albany State University.