Georgia colleges eyeing mergers

Georgia colleges eyeing mergers

November 26th, 2011 by Perla Trevizo in News


The University System of Georgia developed six principles to consider as it discusses consolidating campuses. Consideration will be given to:

• Increased opportunities to raise education attainment levels;

• Geographic proximity, transportation corridors and student backgrounds at the different campuses;

• Demand for specific degrees, program overlaps and duplication;

• The potential for achieving cost efficiency in service delivery, degree offerings and enrollment;

• Consolidations with the potential to improve economic development through enhanced degree programs, community partnerships and improved student completion of degree programs;

• Streamlining administrative services while maintaining or improving service level and quality.

Source: University System of Georgia

Dalton State College wouldn't be very high on the list of possible mergers among the University of Georgia's institutions because of its location, but there are still a lot of unknowns, officials said.

"There is no list at this point; the criteria will apply equally to all institutions," University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby said during a visit to Dalton State earlier this month.

The University System of Georgia is considering whether consolidation is in the best interest of the 36 institutions and students. It is reviewing six principles, including avoiding duplication of academic programs and increasing opportunities for students to achieve their education goals.

"Ours is a very large and complex system," said Huckaby. "If we can achieve efficiencies and savings on administration, then we can pump that back into academic programs."

There's no timeline, but a group of system staff and regents working on the idea should have recommendations during the first quarter of 2012, spokesman John Millsaps said.

According to Dalton State President John Schwenn, Huckaby said the college's location in the northwest corner puts it low on the list of possible consolidations.

"Geographically, we are farther away from other schools, and there were probably a lot of things that make a lot more sense," Schwenn said.

Millsaps said the university system has lost more than $1 billion in state funding over the last decade, while enrollment has grown every year since 1998. The system has about 318,000 students, up 60 percent from 1998.

It's important to talk about consolidation right now because of the economic times, said James Jolly, a university system board member from Dalton.

"The cost of education is going up. We need to be looking at anything we can that might give us an opportunity to be more efficient and hold the cost down and improve our education at the same time," he said.

But merger talks often are controversial, said state Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta.

"People become very invested in an institution, whether it's a college or a high school," he said. "Most people, if you talk to them in terms about significant financial advantages and administrative advantages in consolidation, on that level probably most people would agree with you. It's when you start talking about their institution [that] it becomes controversial."

If there are going to be mergers, they should be done quickly, said Craig McDaniel, president of Georgia Northwestern Technical College, which went through its own consolidation process in 2008.

"If you sit down and have focus groups and get everybody's opinion and survey everybody, it would turn into a political football," he said. "You do it very quickly. Just say, 'We are going to do this.'"

In September 2008, the state board of the Technical College System of Georgia decided to merge 14 colleges, going from 33 to 25, to save about $7.5 million a year. In the region, Coosa Valley Tech was required to merge with Northwestern Tech by July 1, 2009, McDaniel said.

"We took the approach that, instead of finding reasons of why it wouldn't work, we would just make it work," he said.

Each college gave up $250,000 from its budget, McDaniel said, but the biggest challenge was the organizational structure. Still, no jobs were lost as a result of the merger.

Educators "live in silos and think our turf is precious, but from a business standpoint ... what we did in the Technical College System was a business decision," he said.

"Students ended up with more opportunities in terms of program access," he said. "I think we are far more efficient as a merged school."