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Campus Merger: UNG students still have concerns about classes, but transition mostly smooth
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University of North Georgia students walk Wednesday afternoon past brightly colored trees as they past through the Gainesville campus. The former Gainesville State College has now been consolidated with the former North Georgia College in Dahlonega for several months.

University of North Georgia students have a few lingering concerns as they near the end of their first semester at the newly consolidated university.

In January, Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University began operating as a single regional institution. UNG has campuses in Dahlonega on the former campus of NGCSU, and the former GSC campuses in Gainesville, Cumming and Oconee. The consolidation was mandated by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents in January 2012.

For the most part, students say they haven’t experienced too many complications but many are still concerned they’ll find challenges as time goes on.

For sisters Sarah and Emily Heape, both freshmen majoring in biology on the Dahlonega campus, the consolidation hasn’t caused any problems. But they wonder if they’ll be able to access the classes they need to graduate on their home campus in the future.

Sarah Heape said that while registering for classes this semester, she and Emily noticed they may have to drive to Gainesville for some classes later on.

“We wouldn’t want to have to travel to another campus,” Sarah Heape said.

“They only offer some classes,” Emily Heape said. “They used to offer some here but now they offer them at the Gainesville campus. So it is harder for some people. Some people need classes but they don’t offer them here anymore.”

Students currently have the option to take classes at any campus they prefer. However, not all programs and degrees are offered on all campuses.

Tom Torres, a senior in UNG’s Applied Environmental Spatial Analysis program on the Gainesville campus said he and his classmates have experienced more curriculum changes than they expected. He said the curriculum for his program has a few different paths to choose from.

“They said ‘Do you want to graduate this way, this way or this way?’” Torres said. “And I’m like, ‘Which one will graduate me this semester?’ Depending on when you started the program and when you declared, it’s a huge thing. Our curriculum has changed like three times in the last six months.”

Richard Oates, associate provost for academic administration, explained that in the process of combining all courses offered by each institution, many had to be renamed or numbered. The school will release its new unified course catalogue June 1.

Oates said it’s important for the university to be “policy-oriented” as it makes changes to the school’s curriculum, which is difficult to do quickly.

Oates said some confusion among students is expected with a consolidation, and encourages them to seek out advisers for clarification.

“We’re encouraging students to ask those questions because the best way we can deal with confusion is to know that there is confusion,” he said.

With more than 15,000 students enrolled between both campuses, some students wonder if the number of available slots in classes they need may fill quickly.

Traditionally, seniors are given first opportunity to register. Students are able to register on their home campus before registration opens to students on other campuses.

Hillary Huggins, a sophomore in marketing and management on the Dahlonega campus, said her biggest concern with consolidation is knowing she may have to wait an additional day to register.

As the sophomore representative of the Student Government Association and a member of the Student Activity Board, Huggins thinks the consolidation has been a positive move because it has allowed for a more diverse student population between campuses.

She said having multiple campuses has made planning activities a bit more challenging, but the various groups have made a real effort to share events between campuses.

On April 17, the university will hold its first universitywide student event. The annual concert featuring Billy Currington is co-sponsored by student groups between all four campuses, and will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Cumming Fairgrounds.

Huggins said she thinks the increased number of students already has opened her eyes to new ideas.

Torres said he too thinks that having more students will be beneficial to the exchange of ideas between majors, programs and campuses.

“In Dahlonega, they have courses on militarism,” Torres said. “They have the Corps of Cadets ... so there’s a military culture. I’m just a part of the system. I like that. I think it’ll bring up new conversations.”

GSC was traditionally a two-year school for many students. The flagship Dahlonega campus maintains its Corps of Cadets and traditional four-year degree programs.

Pfc. Brock Overy, a freshman student in the corps program, said the only real concern he has with the consolidation is how the increased civilian student population will effect the strength of the program. He has heard rumors that the school may lose its military status because the ratio of cadet to civilian students has shifted with the merger.

University spokeswoman Kate Maine said the cadet program is in no danger of losing its status. She said that while the overall percentage of students involved with the corps is smaller, the program is stronger than ever.

While many students still have questions about how consolidation will affect them in the future, Huggins feels the school’s administrators, faculty and staff have been helpful in the adjustment.

She said she receives regular emails from administrators and UNG President Bonita Jacobs. A question-and-answer session for students is planned.

“There were some worries with the merge, but (Jacobs) has been really helpful,” Huggins said. “The staff has been awesome about it. I know there are definitely mixed opinions but I think it’s been a good thing so far.”

Jacobs said she’s heard “surprising little” about any confusion, but faculty and staff members are continually working to keep students up to date on the school’s vision and accomplishments.

“Our challenge has been to work with students who are part-time or working a lot; we can’t leave any student group out,” Jacobs said. “Every student must have full information and so that’s where our faculty, advisers and staff are. They’re working very hard to send out announcements and information about sessions.”

She said most students have reacted positively to the new school, particularly its university status.

“We’ve had so many work groups working on everything, and we are blessed to have two former campuses at Gainesville State and North Georgia College and State University who sincerely care about students and that makes it an easier process for us,” Jacobs said.

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