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New university almost ready for unveiling
University of North Ga. expects final approval from Regents this week
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On Monday, students will again fill the campuses at North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College, and faculty will again open their office doors and take to the white board for another semester.

But student and faculty are likely to notice something different: covered signs that once bore the name and logo of the individual campuses.

They won’t have to wait long to get a peek at the new campus adornments.

On Tuesday, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia will likely give its final stamp of approval for the University of North Georgia, the institution that will form from the mandated consolidation of North Georgia and Gainesville State.

At that time, the school will unveil its new signage, launch its updated website and officially begin the age of UNG. So each school still has at least one more day of pure independence.

“There has been an enormous amount of work put into this venture at every level and on each campus spanning from students, faculty, staff and community members,” said Kate Maine, spokeswoman for North Georgia. “It’s exciting for us to reach this stage, but internally we know there’s a lot of work to be done over the next few months to realize the potential of this.”

The consolidation, announced by the system in August 2011, will merge the two schools under one banner. But officials said each campus will still maintain the same feel.

“As far as the day-to-day operations, I don’t think there’s going to be very many big changes,” said Robert Guyton, Gainesville State’s faculty senate chairman. “But it’s really just going to provide more opportunities for the faculty to have professional growth and more opportunities for our students to reach their goals.”

The Gainesville campus, which has traditionally been a two-year stop for students, is slated for more four-year degree programs in the coming years. The flagship Dahlonega campus will still maintain its Corps of Cadets and traditional four-year degree programs.

The transition for students seeking a bachelor’s degree once they complete an associate’s degree will be more streamlined as it becomes an internal move; before, students had to transfer.

“For the students, now, it means hopefully they will not have to transfer to a four-year school and stay in the Gainesville area if they want to complete their college education,” said Douglas Young, a political science professor at Gainesville State. “As prestigious of a degree as we have always offered from Gainesville State College, a think a degree from a university — the University of North Georgia — will be even more prestigious. I think there are several advantages for students.”

Brittany Bailey couldn’t agree more. She is a senior at Gainesville State and is one semester away from earning her bachelor’s degree with a major in applied environmental spatial analysis.

“I’m extremely excited to be getting a degree from a university instead of a state college because I think I’ve done university-level work to earn it,” Bailey said. “I feel like the education we’re (currently) getting is right there on par with any university.”

But the benefit, some say, does not apply only to students. Professors likely will have access to an expanded variety of subjects, including upper-level courses that may have not been previously offered,– especially in Gainesville.

“I think, as a faculty member, I, too am really blessed by this merger,” Young said. “As prestigious an institution as Gainesville State has been, and as proud as I have been to be a professor, I think I’ll be even prouder to be a University of North Georgia professor.”

The administrative hierarchy of each campus will blend and the head of a department, which spans multiple campuses, could be miles away.

Professors said there are likely to be some kinks to work out initially, but the majority of the faculty is “optimistic.”

“Anytime there’s change, people are nervous, but I think we’re very optimistic about what’s coming up,” Guyton said. “We’ve had a good experience working with our counterparts at NGCSU and we’re looking forward to the challenges ahead.”

The two schools will remain financially independent until the end of the fiscal year when it “makes sense” to blend that aspect of the institution. But to reach a point where the UNG identity can be displayed and ideally accepted throughout the campuses represents a big step for the institution and its officials.

“To be able to get beyond that step will be helpful to everyone,” Maine said. “We’re excited to reach this point and celebrate the hard work that everybody’s put into this venture and begin to create a united community.”

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