Proposed institution consolidations
- Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University, Dahlonega
- Waycross College and South Georgia College, Douglas
- Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University, Augusta
- Macon State College and Middle Georgia College, Cochran
Source: University System of Georgia
Gainesville State College
Location: Gainesville, Watkinsville
President: Martha Nesbitt
Student population: 9,000
North Georgia College & State University
President: Bonita Jacobs
Student population: 6,100
The two institutions are expected to open a joint instructional center this fall in Cumming.
Source: University websites
Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University will soon be fused into one institution, pending approval of the Board of Regents next week.
The consolidation would merge the two main campuses, plus Gainesville State's satellite campus in Watkinsville, plus the joint instructional center in Cumming, under one administrative roof, said Kate Maine, director of university relations at North Georgia.
"It's been discussed for several months since (University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby) took office and the principles of consolidation were announced in late fall, but we just learned this week," she said.
Faculty at the two schools found out about the consolidation Wednesday after Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, broke the news to the Waycross Journal-Herald. Hatfield heard about the mergers at a meeting earlier that day, Associated Press reported.
The official announcement was supposed to be kept under wraps until today.
"It was not supposed to be released to the media until I had a chance to talk with faculty. My greatest regret is that the leak occurred and they learned about it not from me, and that's not how I wanted it to happen," said Bonita Jacobs, North Georgia president.
All the campuses will remain open, but there might be some workforce reductions, according to a news release from the University System.
Jacobs said any losses North Georgia might experience would most likely come from "natural attrition."
"The faculty were upset because they were shocked," Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt said.
"I had an open meeting (Thursday) in which I tried to assure them that this boded well for our faculty. We don't have enough faculty as there is, so there won't be any layoffs due to the consolidation. I think they were kind of reassured."
Eric Skipper, interim dean of the School of Humanities & Fine Arts at Gainesville State, said the announcement was a big surprise.
"There was a flurry of communication last night," he said. "Once the merger is official, and it seems like it will be, we'll make the best of it. Not everybody's happy about it, but I'm sure a spirit of collaboration will shine through in the end."
Huckaby announced in September the system would examine consolidations to increase system efficiencies and better serve students. The Regents released the principles of consolidation in November, which included increased access to higher education, enhanced regional economic development and streamlined administrative services.
The other proposed mergers, Huckaby confirmed Thursday, are to fuse Waycross College with South Georgia College in Douglas, Augusta State University with Georgia Health Sciences University and Macon State College with Middle Georgia College in Cochran.
The mergers should be completed by fall 2013.
The local consolidation would create a regional institution of nearly 15,000 students, according to a joint news release from Gainesville State and North Georgia. The academic programs will include "associate degrees through graduate-level education."
Regent Philip Wilheit of Gainesville said it was highly likely the Board of Regents will give the go-ahead on the mergers when it meets Jan. 10.
"It's a tremendous win for the student body of northeast Georgia," he said. "It gets us right up there pretty quickly with baccalaureate degrees and graduate degree options. We will have a four-year university in Gainesville."
The consolidation won't affect Hall County and Gainesville City school systems, both of which have students dual-enrolling at Gainesville State.
"The governor's office and the Board of Regents office had a representative call us and let us know just slightly before it hit the media," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. "I haven't had a lot of time to look at every aspect, however, they did assure us that this would be a transition of about a year."
The existing partnerships between universities, and their local school systems, are one reason the University System chose to merge the eight schools, according to a news release.
The merger means a lot to Jim Mathis Jr., president of the North Georgia Community Foundation in Gainesville.
Mathis' late father, along with former Board of Regents Chairman James Dunlap and Gov. Carl Sanders, helped bring Gainesville Junior College to life.
"It started at First Baptist Church (in Gainesville) with just a couple hundred students," Mathis said. "I think Dad would be interested in seeing it remain true to its original purpose of being a student-based learning place. ... I think he'd be proud to see the evolution of it into North Georgia because it had such a great reputation."
He added his father might be less excited about the potential for a name change, but Maine said it was too premature to decide what the new institution would be called.
Huckaby told The Associated Press he doesn't know how much money the merger will save.
"The money saving I anticipate would come from eliminating some administrative positions more than teaching positions, so you don't have as many deans," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. "I'm assuming they'd have one president and some kind of administrative officer in charge of the Gainesville campus akin to the kind of administrative officer in Watkinsville."
Nesbitt hopes the merger will not change the culture of Gainesville State. A big part of that, she said, is having a more moderate admissions policy than some large universities and affordable tuition.
That will be a major consideration over the transition period, Wilheit said.
"We're not going to come in and jack up everybody's tuition," he said. "We'll get recommendations from the implementation teams (each merger will create). Nobody will be priced out of the market."
Rep. Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, taught at Gainesville State during the 1980s, after North Georgia started a four-year program there. He said Hall County and Gainesville State graduates provide much of North Georgia's commuter student population.
He suggested there could be two different tuitions: one for freshmen and sophomores and another for upperclassmen.
"It's going to take some deep thought," Amerson said. "It's not something that you're going to be able to do on the back of a piece of notebook paper."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.