Georgia State University’s president announces departure

Georgia State President Mark Becker. AJC FILE PHOTO
Georgia State President Mark Becker. AJC FILE PHOTO

Georgia State University President Mark Becker announced Tuesday he’s leaving the position in June after more than a decade in the job of leading the school, which has grown under his tenure into having the largest enrollment of any university in the state.

Becker, 61, said he announced his plans now to give the Georgia Board of Regents ample time to conduct a search for his replacement. Becker, Georgia State’s president since January 2009, plans to take an educational leave following his presidency to conduct research and write.

Under Becker’s presidency, Georgia State completed a consolidation with Georgia Perimeter College in 2016, increasing its enrollment which has grown to an estimated 54,000 students this semester. The university’s ongoing effort to use data analytics to improve student performance constantly draws curious colleagues across the nation. Georgia State, by some accounts, graduates more nonwhite students than any college or university in America.

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Becker has also been instrumental in changing the landscape of downtown Atlanta, particularly through the acquisition of Turner Field, the former home of the Atlanta Braves. Georgia State bought it in 2016 and converted the venue into its football field and partnered with a private developer to build student housing and businesses nearby.

“Leading Georgia State for more than a decade, starting in the middle of a global financial crisis and concluding with a global pandemic, has been challenging and stimulating,” Becker said in an email Tuesday to students, faculty, employees and supporters.

May 9, 2019  - Atlanta - Georgia State President Mark Becker addresses the graduates to begin the ceremony.  Georgia State University is hosting its 104th Commencement Monday, May 6 through Tuesday, May 14 at Panther Stadium in Atlanta.  Six schools held their graduation on Thursday. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
May 9, 2019 - Atlanta - Georgia State President Mark Becker addresses the graduates to begin the ceremony. Georgia State University is hosting its 104th Commencement Monday, May 6 through Tuesday, May 14 at Panther Stadium in Atlanta. Six schools held their graduation on Thursday. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

“It has been my most rewarding professional experience. What we have accomplished together over the last decade is remarkable and exemplifies Georgia State’s more than 100-year legacy of adapting to meet the everchanging needs of the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the nation. I have been inspired throughout my presidency by the innovation, culture and indomitable spirit of our community.”

Becker, a statistician, was executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of South Carolina before becoming Georgia State’s president. He arrived at Georgia State during the Great Recession and was forced to make budget cuts. He leaves amid another economic downtown created by the coronavirus pandemic. g Becker was also the highest-paid president of any public university in the state, with an annual compensation package, including deferred payments and allowances, of more than $1 million.

Georgia State has significantly increased its faculty research work under Becker, bringing in a record-high $150.2 million in funding for the fiscal year that ended June 30. Continuing that work, and raising money for the university during the pandemic, will be major challenges for Becker’s successor, said Harvey Newman, a retired Georgia State public policy professor.

Newman said he disagreed with some of Becker’s initiatives, particularly having a football team, but gave him high marks for implementing his vision for the university, which focused on enrolling more students and improving graduation rates.

“He had a very deliberate, strategic planning process ... and unlike anyone else, he ticked them off. He accomplished them.” Newman said Tuesday.

Georgia State University President Mark Becker (center) signs an autograph for guests during the 2019 Football Kickoff Luncheon at Georgia State Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM
Georgia State University President Mark Becker (center) signs an autograph for guests during the 2019 Football Kickoff Luncheon at Georgia State Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

Another challenge for the next president will be addressing diversity and inclusion. Becker in June created a group to improve in that area amid a push for an African Studies Center and criticism from some faculty that there are not enough nonwhite faculty members.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley praised Becker in a statement.

“His vision transformed the university’s physical campus and lifted intercollegiate athletics to new heights. He guided a complex institutional consolidation to a successful outcome and has been a leader off-campus in the city and region. All the while, he provided excellent counsel to me and has become a valued friend," Wrigley said.

Georgia State University then and now

Georgia State University has undergone significant changes since Mark Becker became its president in January 2009. Georgia State consolidated with Georgia Perimeter College in 2016, initially increasing its enrollment by about 18,000 students and its budget by about $175 million.

Category 2009; 2019

Enrollment 30,431; 53,626

Total Budget $595 million; $1.1 billion

Six-year graduation rate 56.5%; 62.3%

In-state tuition* $11,178; $14,908

* For students living on campus.

Sources: Georgia State University annual factbooks, University System of Georgia