Merging schools cheats students

Georgia is known for its many troubles regarding public education, but its public colleges and universities have risen significantly in national rankings. Now, plans are afoot to interfere with a successful system of higher education that serves the needs of tens of thousands of students working to better themselves in tough economic times.

A proposal would remove all of Georgia's two-year colleges from the University System of Georgia and merge them with the state's technical colleges, an idea tried in Kentucky with dismal results. Such a consolidation would hurt undergraduate students because the two-year colleges and tech schools have different missions.

Tech schools prepare students to enter the work force quickly, but two-year colleges offer the opportunity for advanced learning with the goal of transferring to a four-year college. Two-year colleges are the entry point to a college degree for many Georgians, some of whom are nontraditional students returning to school after years of work, a delayed start or switching careers. Many incoming freshmen come to us requiring remediation in English and math because they did poorly in high school.

As a Georgia Perimeter College professor, I can vouch that my college is a great success due to its 23,000 students, its award-winning faculty and the hard work of President Anthony Tricoli. This year we had the largest freshman class in the University System. We transfer thousands of students each year to the four-year colleges and universities. We have transfer admission guarantee agreements with more than 20 public and private four-year colleges and universities in Georgia, but those agreements would end with the merger.

Tech schools don't value a liberal arts education as do the two-year colleges. They don't have to; they're "technical colleges." Many of our arts and humanities programs provide opportunities for the Atlanta community through music ensembles, theater groups and art programs.

The merger idea grew out of working group based on the 2007 "Tough Choices or Tough Times" report, which was commissioned by the National Center for Education and the Economy. However, the report says nothing about merging colleges and tech schools; it emphasizes remedying the woeful lack of preparation of high-school graduates to succeed in college.

This working group pushing the merger was appointed by the governor. Although the group had no representatives from any two-year colleges, it had several technical colleges represented by presidents or faculty. The working group included former state representative Dean Alford, who recently was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Technical College System of Georgia.

Although Chancellor Erroll Davis has suggested he opposes the merger, he's beholden to the governor and the state legislators, who have always been skeptical of academia. A merger would be a logistical nightmare because tech schools are still on the quarter system, whereas the University System is on semesters. Many students would be stranded because valued programs would be cut.

At a time when many more businesses and corporations are seeking creative people with a liberal arts background, why force students into a technical school program? Technical schools have an important mission, but why try and fix something that isn't broken?

We should focus on the true message of the "Tough Choices or Tough Times" report and do something about better preparing high school students for college. The people of Georgia should have a chance to speak to this issue, but this proposal has not been widely publicized. Call or write Gov. Perdue and tell him whether this is a wise choice for Georgia's higher education.

Greg McLean is a Georgia Perimeter College assistant professor of music.