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Merger saved UNG 1.1 percent of budget
Officials say some savings went back into programs, services
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“Efficiency” is what the University of North Georgia, along with the other merged institutions in the University System of Georgia, hoped to achieve when consolidating more than a year ago.

The overall budget for 2014 is nearly $1.9 million less after the consolidation of the former Gainesville State College with Dahlonega’s North Georgia College & State University, forming the University of North Georgia.

The budget decrease between fiscal years 2013 and 2014 amounts to 1.1 percent of the total operating budget of $168 million.

“Our two institutions were extremely efficient prior to consolidation and continue to be so today,” President Bonita Jacobs said.

University spokeswoman Kate Maine said some savings was expected, but the merger has been a learning process for those involved.

“It’s been a learning process to figure out where savings could be achieved most effectively without impacting students,” she said. “And of course the savings were redirected back into academic programs and student services, and that was the plan all along.”

The overall goal of consolidating, as stated by the University System of Georgia, was to “increase the system’s overall effectiveness in creating a more educated Georgia,” according to a PowerPoint found on the university system’s website.

The University of North Georgia was one of four recommended institution consolidations in 2011, and the only one in North Georgia. The others combined Waycross College and South Georgia College; Macon State College and Middle Georgia College; and Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University.

“Because of our already lean operations, the true savings associated with consolidation are long-term,” Jacobs said. She noted the consolidation allows the university to avoid duplicating programs and expand other opportunities.

Maine said the budget reduction for UNG can’t be solely attributed to consolidation.

“That total amount involves funding from several different sources, some of which show decreases that are completely unrelated to consolidation,” she said.

For example, some differences in the budget came naturally through attrition or through the loss or gain of grant funding.

The majority of the savings — a little more than $1 million — came from the elimination of eight administrative positions, but much of that was redirected into new faculty and staff positions, Jacobs said.

“We are working to reduce travel costs through increased use of video conferencing and virtual meetings,” she said.

One of the bigger challenges, she said, is using faculty and staff to accommodate a widely diverse student population that ranges from those in certificate and associate degree programs to those in graduate and professional doctoral programs.

“With a growing student enrollment, we must place a budget priority on hiring additional faculty and staff in key areas that support our students’ ability to get the classes they need and graduate in a timely manner,” Jacobs said.

The consolidation also led to new branding costs, including $300,000 for campus signage and vehicles. Including banners, ceremonial materials, print and Web design, logo design, consulting and mascot development, uniting two campuses under one image cost $407,000.

Other updates, like changing athletic uniforms to reflect the new Nighthawks mascot, were naturally absorbed by departmental budgets.

“All of these expenses have been spread over three budget years now,” Maine said, explaining work began on some items when the consolidation was originally announced. “We have conducted as much work as possible internally to contain costs.”

When looking at other areas to cut, officials recognize the budget likely won’t go down as enrollment and student needs continue to grow.

“I wouldn’t expect our budget to decrease, because we are serving a great number of students,” Maine said. “Of course, they help fund the operations through their tuition and fees, so the budget won’t necessarily reflect cuts. But we will continue to seek efficiencies that are available to us.”

Of the state’s four merged institutions, North Georgia was one of two that did save money this current fiscal year. The newly formed South Georgia State College saw a deduction of $3.3 million between 2013 and 2014.

Not faring as well were Middle Georgia State College, up $2.4 million this year, and Georgia Regents University, which had an increase of $28.4 million.