Ga. regents take steps toward college consolidation

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Officials at Georgia's public colleges likely won't know until early next year whether their institutions will be swallowed up in a proposal to consolidate some campuses and save money, leaders of the university system said during a meeting Tuesday.

The University System of Georgia is conducting a study to determine if the 35-campus system should shrink the number of institutions it runs to help cut administrative costs. The state Board of Regents agreed on a set of principles that include avoiding duplication of programs, improving access to classes in rural areas and cutting back on administrative positions.

"The overall purpose of this is to make the system stronger and make us more effective," executive vice chancellor Steve Wrigley told the board.

The board gave no indication Tuesday of what campuses could be consolidated. Wrigley said the next phase of the study, which includes using data to analyze possible consolidations, could take a couple of months.

And even if the board votes in January on which campuses to merge, board chairman Ben Tarbutton said it would be at least another year before it actually happened. He said the board has no target number for how many campuses should be joined together.

"Every school is on the table," Tarbutton said after the board meeting.

Chancellor Henry "Hank" Huckaby announced the consolidation study in September. He's urged campus communities not to panic but that hasn't stopped Tarbutton and other board members from being flooded with questions over the possible mergers and how they would affect colleges across the state.

Attempts to consolidate universities could face opposition from state legislators in affected districts, who are typically big boosters for their local campuses. The universities are seen as a source of jobs as well points of local pride.

In 2009, a Republican state senator initiated a push to merge historically black colleges in Savannah and Albany with nearby schools that are predominantly white. The plan never moved forward, amid opposition from the legislative black caucus.

Consolidation would mark a change in direction for Georgia's public college system, which has added many new institutions since it was founded in the 1930's. Enrollment at the schools has also been rising while state support has fallen amid steep budget cuts, leading to large tuition increases even as HOPE scholarship benefits were cut back.

The consolidation study is among the first initiatives Huckaby introduced after he was named head of the university system in May. The former state lawmaker and longtime university administrator was charged with repairing the tense relationship between the Board of Regents and state lawmakers, partly due to a perception that the university system wasn't doing enough to cut back spending as the state economy tanked.

(Copyright 2011, The Associated Press)


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