Combining a liberal arts university with a medical college, each with its own identity and priorities, into one institution is a lengthy process, but the proposed merger of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities is not unique in health education.
Of the 136 accredited medical schools in the country, the majority are affiliated with a university rather than standing alone, according to Dr. John Prescott, the chief academic officer of the American Association of Medical Colleges.
The partnerships are designed to eliminate duplicate programs, save money and enhance the student experience, Prescott said.
“That’s just a common model,” he said. “There are some synergies that work out well with regard to students who receive their undergraduate training and then continue on with their medical or other health professional training at the same institution.”
As ASU and GHSU appear to be headed toward a merger, they join a trend of other schools that have combined forces.
In 2006, the University of Toledo merged with the Medical University of Ohio primarily to save money on operations, create more research and improve academic programs, said Lloyd Jacobs, the president of the University of Toledo.
After the two schools combined, the former Toledo president stepped down and Jacobs, who previously led the medical school, became president of the combined university.
During the first year of the consolidation, administrators had to blend more than 500 policies, all of the individual departments and faculty.
The merger eliminated 53 jobs to save $4 million, with almost half of the positions coming from facilities, information technology and health information management departments, The Blade of Toledo reported.
“Here we were with two chiefs of police, two heads of (human resources), two heads of facilities and construction … and we had to go through each one of those and lay off one or the other or find an alternative spot in some cases,” Jacobs said, noting that many reassignments were made through attrition.
Overall, Jacobs said the merger helped create a stronger institution and garnered overwhelming support from community members and local legislators.
“The great strength of a clinical enterprise embedded in a great university is one of the most powerful tools in our country,” Jacobs said.
After the merger, enrollment at the University of Toledo increased for nine consecutive semesters, and the university created coursework for students after departments became partners, such as collaborations with the College of Engineering and the College of Medicine.
The process is still ongoing, but Jacobs said changes were smooth after the merger legislation was signed into law.
“It’s not done yet, and it’s five years down the road,” he said. “At the end of maybe four years now, we’re just now getting there.”
A more dated model some supporters of the Augusta merger point to is Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.
In 1968, liberal arts college Richmond Professional Institute was merged with nearby Medical College of Virginia as part of a “bold new development, an urban university with a substantial graduate school,” according to the Wayne Commission Report on Virginia Commonwealth’s founding.
The new school was a dual-campus university with a new president over chief academic officers on both campuses, with suggestions to consolidate similar nursing programs, as both ASU and GHSU have, into one school under a single dean, according to the report.
While some have suggested cost savings from an ASU-GHSU merger, the Virginia report notes that additional funding was needed for the Virginia Commonwealth merger. The school’s enrollment has since grown from about 12,000 students combined to more than 32,000 students.
Although it’s common to see medical schools join with other public universities, the medical world might be a niche for mergers. Edward Bouie, an associate professor for educational leadership at Mercer University, said it’s not particularly common to see liberal arts schools merge with other liberal arts campuses.
When schools do merge, however, it is usually done for one of two reasons: that they are both in financial difficulty and need to combine to survive, or that both schools are in close proximity and have duplicate services that are costing the state money.
He said that as state budgets continue to slash funding for education systems, mergers often become a frugal and sensible option.
“As we’re looking at the expenses of higher education continuing to climb … and student expenses increase, I think we’re going to see more of it,” Bouie said.
Staff Writer Tom Corwin Contributed to this article.