President's Blog

My closing report to the Board of Visitors: a tribute to the faculty and staff of George Mason University

President’s Report to the Board of Visitors

July 26, 2019

Seven years ago you entrusted me with the leadership of this remarkable institution. It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve George Mason University and to work side by side with an amazing faculty and staff in moving the university forward. As I prepare to leave my post next week, I am proud to report that the university is stronger academically and financially, serves more students of more diverse backgrounds, delivers better outcomes, produces more research, and contributes more value to our local, regional, and global communities than it did when you hired me.

These outcomes weren’t in any way inevitable. They are the result of the hard work of the best team with whom I have ever had the pleasure to work. And thus my last report to the Board of Visitors cannot be but a word of heartfelt appreciation to them, the faculty, staff and administration who have led George Mason University through seven years of extraordinary growth and impact, and to the Visitors, Trustees, alumni, and friends who have supported us in crucial ways on every step of the journey.

Thanks to their work, Mason has emerged as a national example of access to excellence, a top-tier research university firmly committed to its public mission of expanding access to high-quality education. Today Mason is a Carnegie R1 university. It is also the largest, fastest-growing and most diverse public university in Virginia, and it delivers exceptional graduation and career outcomes more typical of selective, elite universities than of large, diverse, metropolitan universities. Financially, the university is stronger in virtually every measure and it enters a new stage of growth with a sound foundation that will better enable it to serve more students, deliver more value to the community, and have an ever broader impact on the world.

None of these accomplishments has been easy. While we have been able to secure significant improvements in state appropriations, public support has not kept pace with our growth and still leaves a major funding gap compared to the other research universities in the state. Philanthropic contributions to Mason have more than doubled as has the endowment, which has helped tremendously in boosting financial aid and faculty support. But philanthropy has only partially compensated for the weakness in state funding. And the university’s commitment to affordability means that Mason has kept tuition significantly below our peer institutions, further constraining our available resources.

This context should serve to highlight the caliber, talent and ingenuity of our faculty, staff, and administrators who have been able to deliver extraordinary value to our students and the Commonwealth of Virginia with a fraction of the resources other universities have at their disposal.

I could therefore not be any more optimistic about Mason’s future. You have appointed a fine interim president in Anne Holton and will no doubt attract a rich pool of candidates among whom to choose our next permanent president. Under their leadership, the university is poised to achieve even more in the next decade. Enrollment is expected to grow to 50,000 driven in part by a new portfolio of online programs serving adult learners.  Our “tech talent” programs will continue to lead the way in Virginia and we hope to create the state’s first accredited school of public health. Research grants and expenditures are increasing at an unprecedented pace.  Work is being conducted to explore the possibility of a new medical school.  Plans are being laid to create an innovation campus in Arlington.  And, major construction projects are under way in Fairfax and SciTech.

Our faculty and staff have written a remarkable chapter in the history of American higher education and are ready to do much more.

I can’t think of a better way to recognize their work than by sharing with you some of the highlights:

  • The university accounted for 64% of net public university enrollment growth in Virginia between 2010 and 2018.
  • Undergraduate enrollment alone grew by 4,557 students (a 26% increase) – which is more than the entire undergraduate student body of Christopher Newport, William and Mary, Longwood, Norfolk State, Mary Washington, VMI or Virginia State.
  • Six-year graduation rates grew from 64% to 70%, earning Mason membership in the American Talent Initiative, a national league of schools with high graduation rates that also includes UVA, VT and WM.
  • The percentage of minority undergraduate students grew by 32% just since 2015, increasing from 10,188 to 13,461. More than 50% of the undergraduate population now comes from underrepresented minority groups. U.S. News & World Report ranks Mason’s student body as the most diverse in Virginia.
  • Community college transfers grew from 2,752 to 3,547 (+29%) far ahead of any other school in the state. The ADVANCE transfer program, launched in fall 2018 and cited by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a national model for transfer, is expecting about 500 students in 100 aligned curricular pathways this fall.
  • International enrollment more than doubled from 1,764 to 3,543, as did study abroad participation. A new campus in Korea was established with support from the Korean government and has already enrolled more than 800 students.
  • Online courses grew from 175 in spring 2012 to 470 in spring 2019 (+169%) and a partnership with leading education company Wiley is helping us expand our portfolio of graduate online programs.
  • The university invested almost $600 million in capital projects, including new dorms and dining facilities, an expanded library, and new or renovated buildings for science, conflict analysis and resolution, health sciences, environmental science, conservation and biohealth innovation. A major renovation of the core of the Fairfax Campus and a replacement for the university’s primary academic building are under way.
  • We secured significant increases in state appropriations: education and general funding grew from $104 million to $150 million (+45%) and state financial aid, from $16 million to $31 million (+99%).
  • Sponsored research expenditures grew from $97 million to $149 million (+54%). The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education named Mason a “Tier 1” research university in 2015 and reaffirmed that distinction in 2018. Mason is the youngest R1 university in the nation and one of four in Virginia (VT, UVA and VCU are the others). New multidisciplinary centers were launched in Biohealth Innovation and Sustainability and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence was established following a national competition.
  • In FY 2012, Mason’s tuition was 85% of the average of the other state doctoral universities. In FY 2019, Mason’s tuition was 72% of the average of the other state doctoral universities. Three-year student loan default rates dropped from 2.6 percent in 2008 to 2.3 percent in 2015 (the national public university average is 7.1 percent).
  • The university’s budget increased from $876 million in FY 12 to $1.25 billion in FY 20 (+43%). The university’s credit rating was upgraded and, in 2017, U.S. News & World Report cited Mason as one of the top 25 colleges nationally in operating efficiency.
  • Annual philanthropic contributions grew from $42 million to $121 million (+188%), allowing the foundation to increase its support of university operations from $30 million per year to $71 million (+137%). The endowment grew from $62 million to $150 million (+142%).
  • Mason joined the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2013-14, extending the Mason brand to such markets as Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis and gaining a major increase in national television exposure. The number of student athletes receiving the provost-scholar distinction grew from 16 to 32.
  • Mason launched 33 new degree programs or degree-designations: 13 Bachelors, 18 Masters, and 3 Doctorates:
    • MS in Health Informatics
    • MA in Middle East & Islamic Studies
    • BA in Criminology, Law, and Society (the BA degree designation was added to the BS)
    • BFA in Creative Writing
    • MS in Nutrition
    • MS in Biostatistics
    • PHD in Writing and Rhetoric
    • BA in Human Development and Family Science
    • MS in Computer Game Design
    • MS in Management
    • MS in Data Analytics Engineering
    • BS in Kinesiology
    • PHD in Bioengineering
    • BS in Atmospheric Science
    • BS in Cyber Security Engineering
    • BS in Mechanical Engineering
    • MFA in Visual and Performing Arts
    • MA in International Security
    • PHD in Health Services Research
    • BS in Rehabilitation Science
    • MS in Athletic Training
    • LLM in Global Antitrust Law & Economics
    • LLM in United States Law
    • PSM in Bioinformatics Management
    • MS in Criminal Justice
    • BS in Statistics
    • MA in Higher Education and Student Development
    • MS in Bioengineering
    • MPS in Applied Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    • BS in Business
    • BSED in Early Childhood Education for Diverse Learners
    • BSED in Special Education
    • BSED in Elementary Education