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Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 3:37pm

Georgia Tech Facing Changes

Georgia Tech President Dr. Bud Peterson is launching his 5th annual summer tour of the state this month. He will travel through several cities from June 8th to the 11th. In addition to Sea Island, he will stop in Brunswick, Savannah, Statesboro, Lake Oconee, Athens and Lake Lanier.

Peterson and his wife, Valerie H. Peterson, initiated the tour four years ago to provide an opportunity to meet face to face with alumni, students, state leaders and other friends to share updates on Georgia Tech and listen to questions and concerns.

Georgia Tech is facing a lot of changes. Higher education is turning more students to online learning with Massively Open Online Courses called MOOCs. Georgia Tech is seeing worldwide growth in its MOOCs .

Dr. Peterson says they have about 330 thousand students that are taking courses. “We don’t charge anything for those courses, so they’re free." he says." We also don’t offer any credit for those courses. The students can take the courses. They can do as much or as little as they’d like.”

Peterson says because young people are so comfortable with online communication, they often set up their own study groups. “Students are self-organizing. There may be 30 thousand students in a course spread all over the world, but ten of them will come together in the Starbucks in Dunwoody and create a discussion group that’s completely self-organized.”

Peterson says Tech also is offering the first professional Online Master of Science degree in computer science. Total tuition for the program is initially expected to be below $7 thousand. A pilot program will begin in the next academic year partly supported by a gift from AT&T. Initial enrollment will be limited to a few hundred students recruited from AT&T and Georgia Tech corporate affiliates. Enrollment is expected to expand gradually over the next three years.

If online courses are going to be so much cheaper than traditional on-campus programs, why should students of the future go for a traditional campus education?

Peterson says a university student's experience is more than formal training. He calls it the other education. "Students, young people, come to a university and learn how to be the types of adults that they will become in the future. They learn how to interact with people, how to communicate, and basically all of those life skills that are so important to a university education, but are not necessarily part of the classroom instruction."

He says "The other education is what we really have to try to focus on.What is it that's going to make students want to come to a place like Georgia Tech?"

The school is also facing cuts in federal funding. Sequestration will cost the school $40 million in federal research grants. The U.S. government is reducing its defense-related research by 7.3% , and other research grants will be cut by about 5%.

Peterson says the school won't see any immediate impact because the federal grants have already been awarded. But he says Tech will likely see less federal funding for future research programs. He says they are looking for other sources of future funding.
"Certainly a greater focus on industry-based research. Trying to move away from federally funded research."

He says most universities historically have been very reliant on federal grants for research and Tech is no exception. He says there's no question that sequestration will present some challenges to Georgia Tech and other research institutions.

Peterson says Tech is also increasing its industry-sponsored student competitions. Georgia Public Broadcasting aired live the finalist round for the Inventure Prize, a competition to create incentives for undergraduate student innovation. Christopher Taylor, a mechanical engineering student, took first place with Chewbots, an automated robotic dog toy. He won $20 thousand from Google, and a patent for his invention.

A program called "Ideas to Serve" is part of the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship in the Scheller College of Business. It is a competition for current students and recent alumni who have early-stage product ideas or venture concepts geared toward creating a better world.

Peterson says "When I talk with the legislators, the Governor, the question that they ask is 'How many jobs has Georgia Tech created?'" Peterson says those expectations of Tech by state and local officials have been increasing dramatically, particularly in the last four or five years.

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