Look for growth from consolidation of ASU and GHSU, leaders say

As Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities consolidate, the greatest opportunity is on the undergraduate side, GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said Wednesday.

“The real growth potential of this consolidation is at this university,” he told a packed ballroom at ASU.

But that also raises concerns about class size, which are in the 20s for biology, and the intimate feel of those classes, said Dr. Rich Griner, chair of biology at ASU.

“We really form relationships with our students,” he said. After Azziz said he couldn’t foresee getting to classes of 100 or more, “I was quite pleased with that,” Griner said.

Some are thinking about adding doctors of a different kind.

Miranda Hawks, a doctoral student in the College of Nursing at GHSU, said she would like to see the new university offer a doctorate in public health.

“It is pretty vital,” she said. GHSU launched the Institute of Public and Preventive Health on Tuesday, which puts more emphasis on innovation and research but will also provide educational opportunities, Azziz told her.

Drew Landrum, an alumnus of ASU and an employee of GHSU, would like to see advanced degrees in communications added.

“The talent and faculty they have there (at ASU) is worthy of a higher education program,” he said.

While many of the questions were about the potential loss of jobs or programs, Azziz and outgoing ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr. said there were no big plans to cut either. Programs are changed all the time depending on demand and need and that will continue, Bloodworth said.

The as-yet unnamed new university “is going to replace both ASU and GHSU,” Bloodworth said. So far, “it looks as though we’re up” in student interest and applications for next semester, he said, “but the jury is out until the first day of class.”

ASU is already recruiting new students in the Atlanta area, and both Azziz and Bloodworth said the new university will have to step up that effort.

“We need to do this in South Carolina,” Azziz said. “We need to do it nationally.”

Though the University System of Georgia Board of Regents will determine tuition rates, the intent is to keep current students at the same rate for the next few years, Azziz said.

“We’re going to try to keep people safe,” he said.

Dr. Mike Brands of GHSU, who collaborates with some ASU faculty, said there has been a turnaround in their mood.

“The faculty have gone from being a little apprehensive to being excited,” he said.

A lot remains to be done on what to call the different campuses, including a new riverfront area at the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame site, Azziz said. But, in the end, it will be greater than the sum of its parts, he said.

“Our biggest goal is to grow,” Azziz said.

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