Our students excelled at the highest levels, and our faculty and staff expanded the boundaries of knowledge while laying the foundation for a healthier and more prosperous future. In short, 2016 was an extraordinary year that leaves the University of Georgia well-positioned for continued success in 2017 and beyond.
Student success took many forms this year. Honors student and Foundation Fellow Laura Courchesne was named UGA’s 24th Rhodes Scholar, and two of our Honors students—Cali Callaway and Morrison Nolan—received the nation’s premier STEM award, the Goldwater Scholarship. Our 4-year graduation rate jumped to a record 66 percent, while our six-year graduation rate and retention rate remained at their record levels of 85 and 95 percent, respectively. To give UGA students a competitive edge after graduation, we became the nation’s largest public university to ensure that each student engages in research, internships and other forms of experiential learning.
This year we also opened the state-of-the-art Science Learning Center to facilitate the most effective STEM teaching methods and further increase the number of students who pursue careers in these economically critical fields. We completed a small class size hiring initiative that brought more than 50 new faculty members to campus and has enabled the creation of 81 new course sections, the majority of which have fewer than 20 students. Eight new faculty members joined UGA through our Presidential Informatics Hiring Initiative, and our faculty created the Georgia Informatics Institutes for Research and Education to advance research and instruction related to big data. To advance interdisciplinary research that integrates the arts, UGA joined the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, a consortium that includes many of the nation’s leading universities.
The same faculty members who educate and mentor students are also advancing knowledge in UGA’s Signature Research Themes of improving health, creating a more secure future and serving our state and world. Research expenditures are a key barometer of the size and scope of our research enterprise, and they surged by 14 percent during fiscal year 2016 and 21 percent over the past two years. We intensified our focus on promoting prosperity with the launch of our campus-wide Entrepreneurship Certificate Program and, through our Carl Vinson Institute of Government, launched the Georgia Certified Economic Developer Program.
Private support to the University surged by an astounding 28 percent in FY 16, and we launched the public phase of our $1.2 billion Commit to Georgia campaign. Boosting scholarship support for students is a key priority of the campaign, and that effort has been invigorated by a $30 million lead gift from the Woodruff Foundation that will dramatically expand need-based aid for our students.
We fared well in several rankings, jumping three spots to No. 18 among public universities in the latest U.S. News ranking and being named first among research universities for student veterans. And for the third consecutive year, UGA received the INSIGHT into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.
These accomplishments—and many others like them—simply would not be possible without the dedication of our remarkable students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni and other supporters. As the year draws to a close, I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to everyone who helped make 2016 such a successful year. By working together, we can make 2017 even brighter.