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Georgia Chancellor on combining eight campuses: Distance learning will bridge geographic distance

– Maureen Downey  for the AJC Get Schooled blog

From the board of Regents on proposed consolidations of eight campuses, which are bound to spark political battles, turf wars and naming feuds:

University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby is recommending to the Board of Regents that eight of the System’s 35 colleges and universities be consolidated. The board will act upon the recommendation at its Jan. 10-11 meeting.

The recommended consolidations are: Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University (Dahlonega); Middle Georgia College (Cochran) and Macon State College; Waycross College and South Georgia College (Douglas); and Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University. Augusta is the only recommendation in which both institutions are located in the same community, although the four recommendations build upon existing partnerships among the eight institutions.

If the regents approve the recommendations, Huckaby said that the consolidation process would begin immediately, with a target date for full integration by fall 2013.

“Georgia needs more of its citizens completing some level of postsecondary education. But we have to achieve this goal by considering some different approaches – approaches that put the needs of our students and the imperative to reach this goal first and foremost,” Huckaby said. “These proposed consolidations are the right approach for us to take at the right time in the system and the state’s history.

“Our goal is a more educated Georgia, with a network of institutions that offer a range of needed degrees for 21st century demands,” Huckaby said. “We are going to fulfill our mission within the limited resources available.”

Students in the institutions to be consolidated will see an increase of educational offerings, through traditional classroom delivery and the increased use of distance learning.

Huckaby said that as part of the system’s plans to meet the targets of the “Complete College Georgia” plan, new system initiatives are being developed to increase and strengthen distance education. Students and faculty in the consolidated institutions will be strongly encouraged to bridge geographic distances with the use of distance education.

The recommended consolidations also will create opportunities for new research and service efforts to strengthen the educational experience of both students and faculty, Huckaby said.

Other benefits of consolidation, Huckaby said, are increased administrative efficiencies and greater economies of scale through the creation of larger institutions better able to serve students. While a reduction in administrative costs and functions is a goal, Huckaby said the process will not be quick, but would take 12-18 months. The savings realized will be reinvested into the instructional mission to serve students.

If approved, all existing campuses will remain open although there potentially will be some workforce reductions at the eight institutions. Decisions regarding the names of the four institutions remaining after consolidation would be made during the course of implementation. Consolidation will begin with the formation of implementation working groups, which reflect a diverse constituent base on each campus. Any policy or other decisions related to consolidations will be made by the Regents’ Special Committee on Consolidation and approved by the Board of Regents.

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