By JEFF AMY – Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Sonny Perdue stopped by the Georgia capitol on Friday the morning of his 50th wedding anniversary to pick up jewelry — his medallion of office — as he was officially sworn in as chancellor of the University System of Georgia while stating its goal that the system be recognized as the best in the country.

“Georgia’s public colleges and universities open the door to all and bring great value to the state of Georgia,” Perdue said in a speech, citing prominent graduates from even lesser-known institutions like Dalton State College and Columbus State University. .

Governor Brian Kemp, House Speaker David Ralston and others greeted the former two-term governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during the ceremony, which took place after the Regents chose Perdue in March to lead the system of 340,000 students.

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Kemp, university system leaders and others praised Perdue with tributes to his earlier career as a state senator and Georgia’s first modern Republican governor.

“After all he’s done, the man has nothing left to prove, but here he is,” said former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton, who was an attorney for Perdue and appointed by Perdue to the state high court.

Perdue, 75, took over only in April after Kemp realigned the 19-member Council of Regents to remove several regents who had blocked the appointment for months. Some students and faculty objected to Perdue as unqualified for the position.

He is paid $523,900 a year to oversee 26 universities and colleges that collectively spend $9.2 billion, including $3.12 billion in state taxes and $3.13 billion in tuition.

The new Chancellor calls his post “perhaps the most impactful job I have ever had”. He signaled continuity with key policies pushed by former Chancellor Steve Wrigley, including guiding students to progress to degrees and graduating on time, as well as maintaining tuition fees.

Perdue presided over years of belt-tightening as governor, but is taking the reins of the sprawling university system at a time when state budgets are big. Lawmakers sent universities $230 million to cut student costs by an average of 7.6% this fall, eliminating special institutional fees that schools have been charging on top of tuition for more than a decade.

“The Board of Regents is committed to keeping costs low as the best way for them to earn a degree,” Perdue said. “Inexpensive doesn’t mean inferior. It means value.”

But Perdue faces the challenge of declining enrollment at a number of smaller regional institutions. He announced earlier this week that 24 of the 26 institutions will again waive SAT and ACT test scores for students admitted in 2023. The University of Georgia and Georgia Tech will be the only exceptions.

Originally from the city of Bonaire in central Georgia, Perdue earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia. Georgia Tech president Angel Cabrera gave Perdue a tie that includes the colors of every school in the system, telling Perdue he “won’t have to worry about playing favorites anymore when you’re dressing for the work”.

Perdue’s biggest new initiative to date has been to seek out more data to guide decisions about the sprawling system. He said this is the key to spurring further improvements.

“Remember, I may not look like it, but I’m a fan of factual data,” Perdue said.

He also said releasing more data would bolster public confidence in the system at a time when some are questioning college policy and some high school students are choosing to go straight into a worker-starved job market.

“We want to be trustworthy,” Perdue said. We want to earn the public’s trust, and that means being prepared to hold ourselves accountable.

Perdue also says he wants to do more to prevent students from leaving the state to seek an education.

“Now I feel like I’ve become a possessive grandfather,” he said. “I don’t want any of them to think they have to leave the state to get a good education.”

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