ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Board of Regents has approved the merger of eight college campuses into four schools with new names and newly appointed presidents.
The moves are a major initiative of Chancellor Hank Huckaby, who leads the University System of Georgia. Huckaby and his top lieutenants bill the reorganization as a way to build more efficient schools for students.
"The purpose is to increase the system's overall effectiveness for our students," said Shelley Nickel, an associate vice chancellor of the system who directed the consolidation process.
The most high-profile of the mergers involve Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University. Those schools will form Georgia Regents University, a controversial naming choice because it does not include Augusta, as many residents in the city had hoped. Regents University is the only one of the new campuses classified as a research university alongside the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.
Regents appointed Dr. Ricardo Azziz president of the new university. Azziz, a physician, served previously as president of the Health Sciences Center University and CEO of the medical college's clinical health system.
The University of North Georgia is formed by combining Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University. Bonita Jacobs, the president of North Georgia College since 2011, will lead the new campus.
Macon State College and Middle Georgia College form Middle Georgia State College. John Black will serve as interim president. Black is the retired president of East Georgia State College.
South Georgia College and Waycross College are now South Georgia State College, with Virginia Carson serving as president. Carson has led South Georgia College since 2008.
Huckaby convinced Regents to launch the plan in 2011. Campus leaders, system administrators and members of the governing board developed the details and initially approved the mergers and the new names over the course of 2012. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting agency that certifies academic quality, gave the new schools its seal of approval in December. That set up Tuesday's final ratification by the regents.
With the action, the Georgia system has 31 colleges and universities with 315,000 students, 40,000 faculty and staff, and a $7 billion annual operating budget.
Reorganizations are commonplace in American public higher education. But they vary widely in purpose and scope. In some cases, tight budgets drive consolidations. In others, systems and universities seek to expand their reach. For example, at the same time Georgia higher education authorities have worked on the latest consolidations, the University of Georgia is moving forward to develop a new engineering program and a medical education enterprise. And the Regents agenda Tuesday includes both moves to create new degree programs at campuses around the state, while eliminating several others.
Nickel, the administrator who ran the reorganization, told Regents, "The country now has a model for consolidations."
John Millsaps, a spokesman for the Regents, said the system has not quantified any potential cost savings from the mergers. He said some savings may come from streamlining administrative functions — offices like admissions, bookkeeping, and having fewer presidents and other executives. He did not say whether any employees will lose their jobs because of the mergers or whether positions will be eliminated only as people leave their jobs voluntarily. Any savings, he said, will be plowed back into the academic functions of the new campuses.