The public forum Monday at Augusta State University about its consolidation with Georgia Health Sciences University took a different tone from the previous town hall meetings aimed at collecting community input.
Instead of a one-hour question-and-answer session with the universities’ presidents, two officials from the schools gave a presentation on the future of academic affairs, leaving time for one question at the end. A later forum at GHSU left time for four people to comment or ask questions.
Previous forums have been filled with audience members hounding GHSU President Ricardo Azziz over the chosen name for the new institution, Georgia Regents University.
With less than three months from consolidation being official, GHSU’s director of media relations, Christen Carter, said officials wanted to use the remaining forums to inform people about academic programs, facilities, parking and other logistics.
“One of the great things about the community is their ability to get involved and rally behind a cause,” Carter said. “We kind of wanted to transition the focus back to what we’re doing – to the basics of consolidation.”
GHSU’s provost, Gretchen Caughman, and ASU’s vice president of academic affairs, Carol Rychly, explained the goals and challenges related to academic programs at the new university to about 100 people at ASU and about 50 at GHSU.
A major priority is to increase the academic programs the new university will offer so it can compete. It will have 111 programs, less than Georgia Tech’s 180, Georgia State University’s 271 and the
University of Georgia’s 474.
The most immediate plans are to develop a Ph.D. program in education and bachelor’s degrees in anthropology, cellular and molecular biology, and applied information systems and technologies, among others.
After initially balking at allowing the new school to pursue multiple new degree programs, University System of Georgia employees
have been won over, Rychly said.
The school plans to increase enrollment to 12,000 by 2019 and facilitate greater student success through increased monitoring and tutoring. Because enrollment at ASU has dropped over the past several years, Rychly said, recruiting students is key.
ASU has a dismal graduation rate of 8 percent of students earning a diploma in four years and 28 percent in six. To address those issues, officials hope to create an honors college, use their Complete College Georgia plans and create a system that notifies students when they are slipping academically.
The efforts will take money, Caughman said. The new programs will require more faculty, and higher enrollment will mean more student housing, dining halls and recreation areas.
Caughman said there will be a gradual tuition increase, but the goal is not to place all the burden on students. She said she hopes growth can come with philanthropic support, tuition from a
larger number of students and federal assistance, assuming the state will continue to slash funding for Georgia schools.
“We’ve taken significant cuts from a state appropriations basis,” Caughman said. “But the fact is we cannot grow our way out either through enrollment or tuition increases on the backs of the students. That’s simply not possible relative to what our mission is.”
With minutes left for one public comment, ASU Alumni Association member Catherine Rutland said officials should prevent unnecessary legal costs by avoiding a trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Virginia’s Regent University.
“Do we have enough money to spend on a lawsuit that we don’t have to go through by making a simple name change?” Rutland asked.
ASU history junior Daniel Porter said he was surprised by the forum’s format but was glad he could get information besides hearing the protests over the Georgia Regents name. Porter’s main concerns are about parking fees, access to facilities and development of more degrees, but he said the consolidation is something to be excited about.
“Every single person I’ve talked to in respect to the name hate it, but that aside, they’re very excited for the research, the program, just being able to do more,” he said.
At the GHSU forum, retired Medical College of Georgia faculty member Gus Etersque said he likes the new plans but thinks Augusta should be part of the name to play on the city’s worldwide reputation from the Masters Tournament.
“I don’t see anything wrong with piggybacking on existing fame,” he said.
Caughman told him the name was a Board of Regents decision, then announced that time was up.
Etersque said that was about the response he had expected.
“The hierarchy here wants to treat it as a dead issue that can’t be changed,” he said of GHSU. “I don’t agree. I think there is something more that can be done.”