As college students start the fall semester, it is essential to note the pivotal role that the University System of Georgia (USG) and the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) have played in our state’s fight against COVID-19. Many doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who serve Georgians were trained in these very institutions. USG and TCSG provided personal protective equipment and testing supplies to hospitals and clinics all over the state to replenish dwindling supplies. These institutions also began utilizing their 3D printers and other manufacturing capabilities, creating face shields and other resources needed by healthcare workers. Additionally, Augusta University continues to provide logistical and healthcare support as our state responds to our citizens’ needs. Both Albany State University and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College have provided housing for traveling healthcare workers, and Valdosta State University lab facilities have been used for nurses to train on ventilator usage and other procedures specific to COVID-19.
When USG and TCSG temporarily suspended instruction on March 16, 2020, staff and faculty of these institutions began preparing to deliver classroom education online or in-person, depending on the safest option for students, staff, and faculty. The effort that went into planning at each of these institutions shows USG and TCSG’s commitment to their students and employees.
USG and TCSG prioritized their students’ needs, providing over 53,000 students with assistance to safely move out of campus residences and supporting 2,700 students who needed to continue living in campus housing because they did not have access to a quality housing alternative. USG moved all of their courses online to prevent interrupting students’ coursework and provided students with prorated refunds for services that students could no longer use on campus.
At Georgia Southern University, students studying to be counselors volunteered their time to provide counseling services to students and faculty during a time with increased uncertainty and stress.
At Savannah Technical College, faculty and staff have made efforts to decrease the number of students in each classroom and have created virtual laboratory and clinical options for students.
At Ogeechee Technical College, faculty members are creating duplicate videos of lectures to ensure that students who are unable to attend in-person have the opportunity to stay up-to-date with their classes.
During Session this year, we ensured that USG and TCSG continue to be adequately funded to provide instruction for students and provide safe spaces for students and faculty on campus. The legislature appropriated over $2.3 billion for USG and TCSG to educate students and maintain facilities. Over $57 million was allocated for the HOPE Scholarship, HOPE Grant, and Zell Miller Scholarship to offer over 439,000 awards to hardworking Georgia students. USG received $201 million and TCSG received $92 million in new bonds for capital projects, including facility renovations, new construction, and the design and planning of future buildings on campuses.
Additionally, USG and TCSG, along with our state’s public libraries, received $195 million in CARES Act federal relief funds that will go directly to these institutions. The budget also included funding for the Cyber Innovation and Training Center at Augusta University with $75,000 to pursue the U.S. Department of Defense’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), which will bring new business opportunities to our state. Additionally, Augusta University and the University of Georgia’s medical partnership are receiving $1.35 million to expand the number of physicians educated in Georgia each year.
We are blessed as a state to have such an exceptional University System and a world-class Technical College System that serve our students. These institutions’ work for all Georgians to help with the COVID-19 crisis that faced our state must not go unrecognized. Thank you all for allowing me to represent Georgia House District 159. It is truly an honor to work for you and this great state. If you have any feedback, do not hesitate to call (404.656.5052), email, or engage on Facebook. If you would like to receive email updates, please visit my website to sign up for my newsletter or email me.
Jon Burns represents District 159, which includes parts of Bulloch County in the Georgia General Assembly where he serves as the House majority leader.