Georgia Board of Regents approves merger of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities

Ricardo Azziz (left), president of Georgia Health Sciences University, talks with Augusta State University President Bill Bloodworth in a hallway outside the Board of Regents meeting Tuesday. Moments before, the regents voted unanimously to merge the schools.

ATLANTA — The merger of Augusta State University with Georgia Health Sciences University, along with the consolidation of six other public colleges, won unanimous approval Tuesday from the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents.

The move also combines Waycross College with South Georgia College, Gainesville State College with North Georgia College and State University, and Macon State College with Middle Georgia College.

System Chancellor Hank Huckaby said the ASU-GHSU merger follows the vision that Gov. Nathan Deal has for the combined institution.

“I think this indicates that he’s committed to there being a high-quality public medical school in this state. The citizens deserve this,” Huckaby said. “It benefits all the citizens, the community as well.”

Though some of the communities with colleges in the consolidation plan opposed it, Augusta leaders support it. They argue the combined school, with a name yet to be selected, will have the size and prestige that will make it more attractive to faculty and students and less vulnerable to future cuts.

University System officials say the goals are to expand opportunities for students and increase efficiency within the system. Combining the schools will eliminate administrative duplication, Huckaby said, and any savings would be channeled into instruction. He declined to estimate how much could be saved, and he said there was no financial analysis to quantify the benefits of merging eight schools into four.

“Part of it, quite frankly, was common sense,” he said. “... Common sense tells you that now we will need only four presidents, not eight. We will need only four chief business officers, not eight. And so it goes on and on and on.”

Implementation will start immediately and is expected to take 12-18 months. The merged Augusta schools will be led by GHSU President Dr. Ricardo Azziz.

Azziz said the process would be transparent to students, faculty and taxpayers.

“I think you’re going to see and hear a lot about it,” he said. “Everything won’t be exactly finalized by the time you hear about it. It will be a lot of work in progress.

“There’s no reason to do anything behind any closed doors.”

Meshing the cultures, faculties and procedures won’t be simple, officials acknowledge.

As an “access institution,” ASU’s focus is on providing access to higher learning to students who might not have the grades for a research university. Its professors concentrate more on teaching than research.

Often, its students are the first in their families to attend college, so the schools have to provide tutoring, guidance and motivation toward graduation that students at research schools get from their parents.

ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr. said it’s not unusual to have different types of students at the same institution.

“At any university, you have different mission criteria for different programs,” he said. “I would imagine that the criteria for the undergraduate programs that ASU offers, they’re not going to change any, and the graduate programs that Health Sciences offers are not going to change. I think we’re going to appeal to the same students we’ve always appealed to.”

Azziz added: “And it will be to a greater degree of students. I think what the community needs to understand is that universities by nature have a heterogeneous population.”

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