Regents to consolidate campuses

The University System of Georgia (USG) is conducting a study to determine if the 35-campus system should reduce the number of institutions it runs to help cut administrative costs. After a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 8, the Board of Regents (BoR) released the criteria that would be used to consider campus consolidation.

Though no specific campuses have been announced as potential sites of consolidation, Chancellor Henry “Hank” Huckaby told campuses not to panic.

The consolidation study is one of the first initiatives Huckaby introduced after he was named head of the university system this past May. A longtime university administrator and former state lawmaker, Huckaby is responsible for repairing the notoriously tense relationship between the BoR and state legislature.

“I know this will be somewhat controversial to many,” Huckaby said during the meeting on Tuesday. “But if we’re going to do what has to be done we must be willing to take on tough issues. I didn’t agree to become chancellor to maintain the status quo.”

Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration Steve Wrigley said that this internal look was needed to ensure the System has a 21st century structure with the right network of institutions offering the proper range of degrees.

“The overall purpose of this is to make the system stronger and make us more effective,” Wrigley said.

With numerous campuses in the state and rising education costs, the purpose of the study is to cut spending in light of the fact that students are paying an average nine percent higher in tuition and fees the state over.

Huckaby originally announced the study and its potential implications regarding campus consolidation in Sept., emphasizing the fact that a number of inputs and factors would be used in the analysis of campuses.

The six different criteria that will be used to analyze institutions for the potential for consolidation include the increase of opportunities to raise education attainment levels; the improvement of accessibility, regional identity and compatibility; the avoidance of the duplication of academic programs while optimizing access to instruction; the creation of significant potential for economies of scale and scope, the enhancement of regional economic development and the streamlining of administrative services while maintaining or improving service level and quality.

A USG spokesman said after the meeting that the Board will make recommendations for mergers early next year.

Past suggestions to consolidate have included both Armstrong Atlantic and Savannah State in Savannah, and Darton College and Albany State in Albany. Three years ago, the idea was raised within the state legislature that the system should merge these campuses to save money. Ultimately shot down, the suggestion was met by resistance from both alumni and local politicians.

Also on Tuesday, the BoR approved the 2013 fiscal year budget request of $1.85 billion, plus an additional $298.3 million for construction, repairs, renovations and other facility needs. With more than 3,100 buildings worth more than $10.5 billion, the system is ultimately seeking to lower costs across the board.

Consolidation of campuses is only one of many policies that the BoR is pursuing. A plan titled “Complete College Georgia” was also released, hoping to address the fact that 60 percent of current jobs in the state of Georgia require college degrees, but only 42 percent of young Georgians qualify.

The proposal outlines the fact that the state has committed to the goal that by 2020, 60 percent of young adults will hold a college certificate or degree.
The plan aims to increase mobility between the USG and the Technical School system.

This plan comes on the heels of Gov. Nathan Deal’s announcement that Georgia qualifies for funding through Complete College America, a national organization focused on increasing the nation’s college completion rate.