GT Savannah to end degree programs

Institute President G.P. “Bud” Peterson accepted a series of recommendations presented by a task force he appointed to conduct a review of Georgia Tech-Savannah (GTS). As a result, starting next year, GTS will initiate a plan to gradually phase out its undergraduate and graduate degree programs and to install new programs as part of a new operational model.

Peterson received the task force’s report, titled “Defining a Path Forward for Georgia Tech-Savannah,” on June 1, and spent two weeks reviewing the findings. On June 15, he presented his decision in a memorandum sent to Provost Rafael Bras, the head of the task force.

“After considerable review and deliberation, I am pleased to accept the report in its entirety. While I am excited about the bold vision that you have proposed, I know that we have much work ahead of us,” Peterson said in the memo.

The 16-member task force was formally established in Dec. 2010 and conducted a study through the end of May 2011. Along with Bras, the task force included Tech administrators and faculty, including two faculty members who currently work at the Savannah campus.

During the six-month review period, members of the task force consulted with numerous people associated with GTS, including current students and faculty, GTS advisory board members and alumni and members of the Savannah community and government.

One focus of the task force included low enrollment and retention rates.

Through the Georgia Tech Regional Engineering Program (GTREP) and the Engineering Alliance (EA), undergraduate students transferred to GTS after two years at Armstrong Atlantic State University, Georgia Southern University or Savannah State University.

Of the 338 students in the GTREP in 2010, 213 were at one of the three partner colleges and had not yet enrolled at GTS; only 97 students were on campus in Savannah.  A significant percentage of GTREP students would either drop out of the school or transfer to the Atlanta campus.

Bras said that time spent at another college before transferring to GTS caused a number of students to rethink the decision to leave the original school.

“Very commonly, [students] spend the two years in a full-fledged campus [such as] Armstrong Atlantic or Georgia Southern, and they find that they…[feel] comfortable and [feel] at home there,” Bras said.

The report indicated that some faculty members were frustrated with the low student-faculty ratio, which was approximately 14.7:1 for GTS overall and 3:1 for graduate students. The ratios are 32:1 for the College of Engineering as a whole and 10:1 for graduate engineering students in Atlanta.

The primary result of the changes to GTS will be the end of all of its current degree programs. To date, GTS has offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil, computer, electrical and mechanical engineering. The fact that all degrees at GTS are also available for Tech students at the Atlanta campus, combined with the lack of a full-fledged campus in Savannah, contributed to the low enrollment numbers at GTS.

“We offer the same programs that we offer here [in Atlanta], except here we have a full-service campus…We don’t want duplication. We find that if there is duplication, then it is a very hard sell, because [the Atlanta campus is] not that far away,” Bras said.

The task force emphasized that current GTS students will be able to complete their degrees. GTS will continue to operate as usual for the upcoming academic year before changes take effect.

“Anybody that…has satisfied the academic requirements is and will graduate as a Georgia Tech student with a Georgia Tech degree,” Bras said. “We will take care of [the students] and make sure they can finish.”

In considering programs for GTS to adopt, the task force sought to turn the program into a financially sustainable operation. At the time of the report’s publication, GTS faced a revenue shortfall of $4.5 million. Bras noted that the gap was larger in the past, but had improved in recent years.

“I really optimally want to make sure that it’s a break-even or even a money-making operation…The programs we’re suggesting are programs that have that potential,” Bras said.

The task force outlined plans for a new model that features education catered to military personnel, professional master’s degree programs and undergraduate opportunities that would take advantage of Savannah’s resources.

“We are firmly convinced—I am, at least—that there are things we can do over the next few years to create unique programs in Savannah,” Bras said. “We still need to do some market studies and look at some adjustments to implement, but I think there is good potential.”

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