Regents working to clarify colleges’ missions

For the first time in nearly two decades, the University System of Georgia will clearly define the role of all 31 colleges so that everyone understands what programs each school should teach and whom they enroll.

The proposal, which will be voted on in August, will drive decisions on everything from admissions standards to tuition and fee rates to whether the state Board of Regents will approve requests for new degree programs, said Houston Davis, the system’s chief academic officer.

The full Board of Regents received its first briefing on the proposal Tuesday, but the system has been working on this plan since Hank Huckaby became chancellor nearly two years ago. Huckaby said Tuesday the plan reflects the reality that the state and the system will continue to struggle financially in coming years.

“The system cannot afford to offer every degree everywhere to everyone in Georgia,” he said.

The move responds to criticism in Georgia and across that country that as colleges compete for students, money and prestige, they offer more respected and expensive programs. Two-year schools want to offer more four-year degrees. State colleges want to offer more graduate programs. State universities want more doctoral degrees and research.

For example, in recent years, more than 15 states have allowed community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, normally the province of four-year colleges. Georgia allowed six colleges — including Georgia Perimeter and Atlanta Metropolitan — to do this when Erroll Davis was chancellor.

When Huckaby became chancellor, he said the system will be “very judicious” moving forward.

The proposed policy would impact all schools. Kennesaw State and West Georgia universities would be allowed to offer more doctoral programs and place a heavier emphasis on research.

The two schools would join Georgia Southern and Valdosta State universities as “regional comprehensive universities.” This is one step above their current classification, but below that of research colleges, which include Georgia Tech and University of Georgia.

The last time the regents undertook this comprehensive look at school missions was in the 1990s, system spokesman John Millsaps said.

As part of that work, Georgia State University became a research institution, drastically changing a college that was known as a commuter school. The move gave the college access to millions in federal research money, allowed it to attract stronger students and cultivated a national reputation that continues to grow.

It’s unlikely that Kennesaw State or West Georgia would experience that drastic a transformation.

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