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North Ga., Gainesville State plan for January merger
Colleges in beginning stages preparations as state sets timetable for moves
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Starting in January 2013, four newly consolidated institutions will begin implementing their merger plans.

But the deadline does not come as a shock for North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College, which will be under one name come the beginning of next year.

"Our goal from the beginning has been to have the consolidation become effective January 2013," said Kate Maine, spokeswoman for North Georgia. "It was something the consolidation implementation committee adopted for our consolidation."

The first order of business for the committee — which comprises about 25 administrators, faculty, students, alumni and community members from both institutions — is developing a mission statement for the consolidated institution.

"The importance of starting with the mission is that will really drive so many other decisions," said Martha Nesbitt, president of Gainesville State.

That work is being done now, pushed by independent research of the two campuses to identify themes that stakeholders consider a priority.

"We are still in the beginning stages of our work," Maine said.

The implementation committee has adopted a planning structure, made up of two subcommittees.

An executive planning team, made up of mostly vice presidents, will lead work on the operational side. They will be informed by smaller working groups who will assess details of the consolidation.

Those groups will report back to the implementation committee, who, in turn, will make recommendations to the Board of Regents.

"(Those groups) are beginning to be formed now," Maine said.

The self-imposed January deadline was driven the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools approval dates in either January or July. SACS must approve the institution's implementation plan.

Those plans must be submitted to SACS by Oct. 1.

Highlighted in that plan will be the consolidated institution's mission statement, name, academic programs, administrative structure, student services and other areas that SACS considers for approval.

Even though the two schools will stand under one name next year, they will start the fall semester independently and will keep their finances separate until the next fiscal year, which starts in summer 2013.

"Next year will kind of be an interesting year because we have to start the year as two completely independent institutions," Nesbitt said. "Even though (the consolidation) becomes official in January, there will be certain things that continue on a parallel track while other things come together."

Financial aid also will be separate until the start of the fall 2013 semester.

Although the work is just beginning, some changes, such as a new name and identity, top the to-do list.

"It's a very emotional topic for a lot of people," Maine said. "(But) both of our institutions have been through name changes previously. We want to make sure, at this point in our history, we ensure that there is a lot of opportunity for input into this. This is a momentous point in our history for both of us."

The university system has asked for schools to make the new name recommendations by July 1.

The implementation committee meets Saturday and will have a good idea of the mission statement then. The name, Nesbitt said, will hopefully come shortly after that.

One thing the colleges will be aiming for is being "truly comprehensive."

"(We were told by the Regents and chancellor) that we will be a regional university and we will be comprehensive," Nesbitt said. "We will include access, which has been so important to Gainesville State, and we'll offer everything from associate's to graduate degrees. It will be a first, I think, in the system in the sense of being a truly comprehensive university."

North Georgia and Gainesville State are two of eight colleges statewide that were chosen to be consolidated.

Macon State College will join with Middle Georgia College; Waycross College will join with South Georgia College; and Augusta State University will join with Georgia Health Sciences University.

The board of regents approved the four consolidations in January.

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