January deadline to merge colleges

 

ATLANTA — Eight public colleges – including Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University – are on pace to combine into four Jan. 8, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents learned Tuesday.

To reach the January target to streamline administrations and cut costs, the eight schools have several steps:

• In May, they’ll ask the regents to approve their mission statements for the combined schools.

• In August or September, they’ll submit three names for each merged school for the regents’ blessing.

• By October, they’ll have an organizational chart showing who will work where and what those jobs will be. University System officials have said some jobs will be eliminated, which ones could be clear then.

• Also in October, the accrediting agencies will get detailed plans on how the new schools will work.

• The agencies will vote on those blueprints in December, before the regents’ final go-ahead the next month.

The plan also will consolidate Waycross College with South Georgia College in Douglas; Middle Georgia College with Macon State College; and Gainesville State College with North Georgia College & State University.

Nailing down a mission statement is the next major milestone ahead, according to Associate Vice Chancellor Shelley Nickel.

“We realized that the mission statement really drives a lot of the other decisions that have to be made in a consolidation,” she told the regents.

Nickel said the planning has gone well so far at each of the schools involved. She acknowledged that some community leaders were initially concerned, including Waycross residents who attended last January’s meeting when the regents put the merger process in gear.

Now that the process is in motion, Nickel acknowledges that getting the people to work together as a team at each of the combined schools will be tricky.

“The challenge is more cultural than the bricks and mortar and the technology,” she said.

Dr. Ricardo Azziz, GHSU’s president and the designated head of the combined entity, said he is pleased with the process so far.

“People are starting to understand the potential benefits to Augusta and the state from the combined institution,” he said.

Nickel agrees.

“In Augusta, that one is going to be a full-fledged research university, and really it has the opportunity to change the face of that region of the state,” she said.

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