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University of North Georgia plans await official approval
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While college students on four North Georgia campuses try to shed the turkey lag and look ahead to finals, officials are finalizing the consolidation of the two area institutions that oversee the schools.

In January, the University of North Georgia will top the letterhead of what was two schools: North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College.

Earlier this year, the University System of Georgia announced the consolidation, and since then, an implementation committee has been hashing out the details, including the name of the new institution, mission statement and admission procedures.

Those plans have been submitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency, and should get approved during a mid-December meeting.

“All of the indicators look like we’re on track with meeting all the requirements for the SACS review,” said Bonita Jacobs, president at North Georgia and future leader of the consolidated institution. “So, at this point we feel good about that, but we won’t have confirmation until that time.”

Once SACS approves the prospectus, it will move on to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents for approval.

“It’s a very large document where we have to outline everything from our academic credentialing to our fiscal responsibility and whether they can endorse us as an institution, meaning whether the students can receive a strong degree that meets the higher education standards,” Jacobs said.

But while the prospectus sits in the hands of the accrediting body, more than 60 work groups are still going through details of the consolidation — like how the faculty senate and staff council will operate, letterhead and seal design, institutional symbols and signage, spirit marks and athletic considerations.

“There are still a lot of things that we’re working through,” Jacobs said. “As you can imagine, details come up everyday, and I suspect they will throughout the spring semester.”

But the 16,000 students who will eventually consider themselves Nighthawks of North Georgia will likely not see a lot of day-to-day changes come spring semester.

Each campus will continue to operate as is, just under the banner of the new university.

Jacobs said part of the new university’s vision is to use individual campuses depending on the area’s need.

The Oconee campus, for example, needs more space to serve its students, many of which use the campus as a feeder for the University of Georgia or North Georgia, Jacobs said.

Gainesville’s campus, for instance, could see more bachelor’s degrees. Traditionally, the majority of degree offerings have been associate.

“Gainesville has a tremendous need to expand their number of baccalaureate programs and then to take a look at what we need to do for master’s and maybe doctoral programs in that area,” Jacobs said. “Gainesville’s growing, and we really need to look at what opportunities are there.”

The relatively new Cumming campus is a “blank slate” and the school is gathering information on what kinds of programs to offer there.

The flagship campus in Dahlonega, at first, Jacobs said, will not change a great deal with program offerings, but will act as the hub for an expanding operation in the area: working with high schools to boost graduation rates.

“It allows us — it actually implores us — to look at some of the opportunities to make sure we’re working in partnership with the regional high schools and increase the college-going rate,” she said. “Our vision is so exciting. If we’re able to actually increase that college-going rate, which makes us even more attractive for businesses to come into our region, it changes the dynamics of our region.”

All those campuses working individually, but not independently, Jacobs said, extends the university’s reach in the region.

“The interesting thing about the consolidation is we’re going to be one — we’re going to have single purpose — but each campus will be different because our culture is different and our cities are different,” she said. “You put all that together and it’s an incredibly powerful vision.”

To drive the institution forward, the organizational structure of the university will be shifted, but, Jacobs said, no personnel will be let go.

“If we’re already lean and we continue to grow, how do we find ways to cut back on the number of faculty?” she said. “We’re struggling to keep pace and not increase class sizes and not ruining the formula that we have for our students exceeding so well on the campuses. So, yes, there will be personnel changes ... but we have not riffed (reduction in force) anyone or laid off personnel because we need everyone we have.”

Vice presidents were announced earlier in the year and their departments’ personnel charts are still being finalized. 

Students will start classes under the new banner Jan. 8.

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