Regents approve consolidation involving 4 Georgia colleges

The Georgia Board of Regents unanimously voted Wednesday to consolidate Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University as well as Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and Bainbridge State College.

Supporters believe the larger of the two consolidations, Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University, will improve the economy in the Savannah area and southeast Georgia by educating more health care professionals and engineers. The consolidation would make the new school, which would be known as Georgia Southern, the fourth-largest in the state with about 27,000 students.

“I view this as an opportunity to create an economic powerhouse in southeast Georgia,” said board member Don Waters.

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and Bainbridge State College have a combined enrollment of nearly 6,000 students.

Some students and alumni, particularly at Armstrong State, criticized the consolidations, saying they were not given enough notice about the plans, which were announced late last week. They also questioned the consolidations from a logistical standpoint. Georgia Southern is about an hour drive from Armstrong State. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College is about a 90-minute drive from Bainbridge State College.

“We were blindsided by the process,” said Somi Benson-Jaja, Armstrong State University alumni association president. “We really want to make sure this is good for the Savannah community.”

Georgia Southern president Jaimie Hebert said his office received little notice about the consolidation, but welcomed the plans as an “opportunity of a lifetime.” Hebert will be president of that school after the Georgia Southern and Armstrong merge. He noted that many Armstrong students already commute to Georgia Southern. About 20 percent of students who transfer from Armstrong go to Georgia Southern, more than any college, according to the University System of Georgia.

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College President David Bridges will lead that institution after its consolidation with Bainbridge State.

Hebert and University System of Georgia officials said town hall meetings will be held to get input from students, faculty and community members about the consolidation and to make potential changes. Waters said he hopes the Armstrong name is kept somewhere after the consolidation, perhaps as the name of the current Armstrong State campus.

The consolidations must still be approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. University System of Georgia said it may take about a year before the plans receive SACS approval and brought before the Board of Regents for final approval.

University enrollment, Fall 2012-Fall 2016

Georgia Southern - 20,574; 20,516; 20,542; 20,466; 20,674

Armstrong State - 7,439; 7,101; 7,094; 7,103; 7,157

Abraham Baldwin - 3,233; 3,394; 3,458; 3,393; 3,475

Bainbridge State - 2,939; 2,699; 2.470; 2,401; 2,468

Source: Fall semester enrollment reports, University System of Georgia