The University System of Georgia moved one step closer Tuesday to officially merging some of its colleges.
An accreditation agency approved allowing the State Board of Regents to merge eight existing colleges into four. This was the final step needed and next month the board will authorize the consolidated colleges to operate and formally appoint campus presidents.
The mergers mark a historic step for a state agency long known for expanding. For years state lawmakers and others have called on the system to combine campuses, but nothing came from those discussions.
Chancellor Hank Huckaby, who took over the system in 2011, called for the mergers as part of a series of changes to force colleges to confront the economic realities caused by the recession and state budget cuts.
“At the outset, our goal with consolidation was to broaden opportunity for more students and to do so more efficiently,” Huckaby said in a statement after the approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
While Huckaby has said mergers will allow the system to reduce administrative costs, system officials don’t have estimates on how much would be saved.
None of the campuses will close, and Huckaby said savings would be funneled into academic programs so that students in smaller communities will have access to more courses and degree programs.
The college pairings are: Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities; Waycross and South Georgia colleges; Macon State and Middle Georgia colleges; and Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University.
The process to merge them has had some controversy. Some have worried about layoffs and feared working adults will have to travel farther to take certain courses.
Fights emerged over what to name the new colleges, and arguments became especially heated in Augusta, where the consolidating schools are about three miles apart.
The new consolidated college will be named Georgia Regents University, but it will be called Georgia Regents University Augusta in the school’s official logo and marketing efforts. That was the compromise reached after residents vehemently opposed the absence of their city in the name.
Once the mergers are complete the number of schools in the system will drop from 35 to 31.