An open letter to UGA students by Rodney D. Bennett, vice president for student affairs

To our 4,600 incoming freshmen, our incoming transfers and new graduate students – “Welcome to UGA!” And to the rest of the 33,400 in the student body, a hearty “Welcome back!”

You are now part of one of America’s great public research universities. As you embark on the new academic year, I hope you will share my excitement about the great things happening on this campus.

Our freshmen are part of the most academically qualified incoming class in UGA history, with an average SAT of 1242 and GPA of 3.72. Twenty percent of the class is non- Caucasian, also a record. Some 350 are African-American, a 73 percent increase from a year ago. Minority graduate enrollment is up 67 percent since 2000, and UGA last year ranked 11th in the nation in the number of doctoral degrees earned by African-Americans.

If past experience holds, some 95 percent of you entering as freshmen will return as sophomores. This is an extraordinarily high retention rate for a large, public university and is more akin to the profile one would expect at a small, liberal arts college. Also, we would expect that more than one-fourth of you will spend a semester abroad in the next four years – UGA now ranks second in the nation for the number of students participating in short- term study abroad experiences.

You will study and live in some extraordinary facilities. The campus abounds with historical treasures – 23 campus buildings are more than 100 years old. Not surprisingly, Old College is the oldest, and is undergoing historical renovation in preparation for its 200th anniversary next year. The campus also boasts some of the most modern, state- of-the-art facilities in higher education, including the Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences that will open this year, the $50 million East Campus Village in which many of you will live, the $43 million Student Learning Center – one of the largest and most technologically advanced classroom facilities on any American campus, and the Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activities – dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the best such facility in the country.

You will have the opportunity to study with some extraordinary faculty. History professor Eve Troutt Powell was named a MacArthur Fellow, the “Genius Award.” Food Science professor Michael Doyle was elected to the Institute of Medicine, the medical equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences. Douglas Toma of the Institute of Higher Education was named by the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of ten influential scholars who will be the next generation’s leaders in higher education.

A significant advantage of being an undergraduate on the campus of a large, research university is the chance to learn from researchers first-hand – the people who are creating new knowledge for society. Research volume at UGA set new records again last year, reaching $313 million in research expenditures. I urge you to take advantage of the programs of the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO).

Likewise, the affinity of alumni and the general public for the University of Georgia has never been greater. Private giving for the fiscal year just completed reached $96.9 million – the fifth consecutive record year of private support which is so critical to the ultimate success of a public university. Be aware that only 35 percent of UGA’s budget comes from state appropriations and only 18 percent from student tuition and fees, so private support is the critical difference.

You’re a part of a UGA student body that understands excellence and service to others. UGA ranks second in the southeast in the number of students entering the Peace Corps annually. The student Relay for Life was the country’s first and remains its largest, raising some $250,000 for cancer research each year. The student-managed Dance Marathon raised $225,000 last year for the Children’s Miracle Network and is second in size in the nation. The Redcoat Band majorettes won their second national championship. And let’s not forget the NCAA championships won by our athletics teams in men’s golf, gymnastics and women’s swimming and diving.

You’re joining an institution that’s never been so strong on so many fronts. The indicators are uniformly high and rising. Welcome. It’s a great time to be a Georgia Bulldog!