Wrigley to retire as leader of Georgia public universities

FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2017, file photo, Steve Wrigley, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, speaks at the groundbreaking of the Waters College of Health Profession at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga. Wrigley announced Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2020, that he will retire on July 1.

ATLANTA (AP) — The leader of Georgia's mammoth public university system announced Tuesday that he will retire on July 1.

Chancellor Steve Wrigley made the announcement after a regularly scheduled Board of Regents meeting.

Regents will have to choose the next chancellor of the system, which has 26 colleges and universities with more than 340,000 students.

The chancellor is both an administrator and a politician who deals with the governor, lawmakers and regents. Wrigley fit that bill because he had been the system’s senior vice president for external affairs and vice president for government relations. Before that, he had served as director of the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and chief of staff to former Gov. Zell Miller.

Under Wrigley, the system has focused on creating three-year “nexus” degrees in many fields, and has worked to make sure freshmen make it to their sophomore year and students borrow less to pay for their education. The system has kept tuition flat for three of the past five years.

Those efforts have borne fruit with a strong increase in graduation rates and has awarded record numbers of degrees at rates that have outstripped increases in enrollment.

Wrigley also continued previous effort to consolidate the number of colleges and universities and sought to cut administrative costs, with institutions reinvesting savings in expanded course offerings and student services.

“Since assuming his role as chancellor of the University System of Georgia, he has helped our higher education system achieve new heights,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. “More than any time in recent history, it is critical that we maintain a laser focus on educating and training the next generation to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Georgia has had two in-state chancellors in a row. Wrigley's predecessor was Hank Huckaby, who had previously been a university administrator, state budget director and state representative. Before that, regents had two decades of chancellors hired from out of state.

Wrigley had been vice chancellor since 2011 when he took over in for Huckaby. Regents moved Wrigley into the top job as interim chancellor in 2016 and then gave him the job permanently in 2017 with the support of then-Gov. Nathan Deal.

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