Albany State Seeks Collaboration with Local Business Leaders

Barbara Kieker

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Dr. Art Dunning, interim president of Albany State University, is a proponent of taking a new way of looking at how we solve problems together as a community. From how to grow the economy in southwestern Georgia to how to grow enrollment at ASU, Dunning sees a role for business leaders in thinking and acting differently to develop solutions.

"We can't get anywhere without the support of business leaders," Dunning said.  "For example, the leaders of ASU, Darton and Albany Tech are working together to address issues in the community.  We need to expand this collaboration to include business leaders so we can move to the next level." 

Growing the economy in southwestern Georgia

According to Dunning, making a conscious decision to focus and build on the strengths in the regional economy can bring about positive change and growth.  He cites India as an example of a place that has succeeded by making such a conscious decision. 

"In India, leaders decided they wanted to be the knowledge power of the 21st century.  They made a conscious decision to do this and focus on science, math, engineering and technology in their schools.  They've been very successful as a result," Dunning said.

"In southwestern Georgia, agribusiness is one of our strengths.  We need to work together to understand how we can assist this industry in the most sophisticated ways."

Dunning also believes more companies will come to the region if there is a stronger, more educated workforce.  He and the leaders of Darton State College and Albany Technical College are working with the Dougherty County School System to improve graduation rates in the school district.

"For every 10 students in the ninth grade, we lose four by graduation.  And there are no family-sustaining jobs out there for people with a ninth-grade education," Dunning said.

"You can't lose that kind of human capital and run a society.  Our partnership is focused on how we can work together and identify three or four areas that are the top priorities to address this.  Public education is the greatest thing we've ever done as a nation and it's still a good thing.  We need to fix it." 

Growing enrollment and opportunity at ASU

Dunning's top priority for 2014 at ASU is recruitment of students and that includes everything from admission to retention and graduation.  Improving graduation rates is a particular area of emphasis. 

"College graduation rates are low nationwide.  Family and job demands get in the way so we need to provide support to students in ways that we haven't before," Dunning said. 

Many students are unprepared to make the transition from high school to college.  They lack good study habits and planning and organization skills.  Dunning believes an early alert system that signals a student is struggling can help address these issues. 

"Mentoring by successful alumnae in the business world can also help.  It can demystify the world of work.  Advice from a mentor resonates very differently with students than advice from a parent," Dunning said. 

Dunning also would like to increase the percentage of students at ASU participating in study abroad programs.  In 2013, a total of 21 students spent anywhere from six weeks to a semester studying abroad, including 11 students in Trinidad and Tobago, nine in China, one in France.  That's up from just one student in 2010. 

"I think students gain so much by spending time in an emerging economy like China or India and I want us to have the funding and infrastructure to encourage more students to participate," Dunning said.

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.