The documents from the University System of Georgia show some administrative positions and overlapping programs may be cut as the institutions merge over the next year. The documents also show some faculty and staff may be transferred to another campus and at least one campus chief, Middle Georgia College President Michael Stoy, will lose his title once his campus merges with Macon State College.
The documents were released to The Associated Press as part of an open records request.
Chancellor Hank Huckaby has declined to say how much money will be saved by the mergers or how many jobs may be eliminated.
“The bottom line to all of this is we want to do a much better job in using our money,” Huckaby told state lawmakers during budget hearings at the Capitol on Tuesday. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re committed to changing the status quo in the university system.”
The proposal to merge the campuses was released publicly, just days before the state Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve it Jan. 10. The mergers help the university system absorb some of the $1 billion in state funding cuts that have been made in the last four years and will create larger, stronger institutions in key areas of the state, Huckaby said.
The plan will consolidate Waycross College with South Georgia College in Douglas; Augusta State College with the Georgia Health Sciences University; Middle Georgia College with Macon State College; and Gainesville State College with North Georgia College & State University.
For some campuses, like Gainesville State and North Georgia, the merger is a natural fit because the campuses already work together on many programs and the Gainesville State president is retiring in June. But for others, like Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences University, the consolidation could be painful as officials try to create one institution out of two very different colleges.
Georgia Health Sciences is the state’s only public medical school, while Augusta State _ just three miles down the road — is a 6,700-student four-year university that draws its enrollment mostly from that region of the state. Georgia Health Sciences recently changed its name but likely will have to take on another moniker to indicate that it will no longer be just a medical and allied health institution.
University system officials say they do not plan to shut down any campuses but will instead merge administrative functions at the institutions. The unprecedented mergers will give students in smaller communities across the state a chance to study at larger institutions that they might not have had access to in the past, through online classes and shared faculty members, officials said.
Some community members in Waycross say they are worried the consolidation is just one step toward shutting down the state’s smallest public college campus, which has about 900 students.
“Our issue is the total disrespectful way in which they handled our community,” said the Rev. Fer-Rell Malone, senior pastor at Macedonia Baptist Church in Waycross. “My concerns are whether or not the college will be closed in the next two years and this is just the process of getting there.”
The merger plan calls for forming committees at each institution that include students, faculty, staff and community members to help make the transition smooth. The committees will be established in coming weeks.
Consolidation marks a change in direction for Georgia’s public college system, which has added many new institutions since it was founded in the 1930’s. Enrollment at the schools has skyrocketed while state support has fallen amid steep budget cuts, leading to large tuition increases even as HOPE scholarship benefits were cut back.
“Resources had become limited. By putting them together, we can deliver more effectively and efficiently to the people of middle Georgia,” Stoy said.
He said is unsure of what his role will be once Macon State President Jeff Allbritten becomes head of the merged institution.
Previous efforts to merge institutions in Georgia have failed, mostly because of the politics involved, Huckaby said.
In 2009, a Republican state senator initiated a push to merge historically black colleges in Savannah and Albany with nearby schools that are predominantly white. The plan never moved forward, amid opposition from the legislative black caucus.
There are no historically black institutions on the list of mergers.
Other states, like Maryland, Maine and Louisiana, have tried similar mergers with no success.