Regents working to clarify colleges’ missions

Classifying Georgia’s colleges

The 31 colleges in the University System of Georgia will have clearly defined missions under a proposal before the State Board of Regents. This classification will guide the programs they offer, the students they attract and the research they conduct. Here is a summary:

Research Universities: These schools offer undergraduate and graduate programs. The heaviest research will be conducted at these schools. Member universities: Georgia Tech, Georgia Regents, Georgia State and University of Georgia.

Regional Comprehensive Universities: These schools also offer undergraduate and graduate programs. They can have some doctoral programs, but the graduate focus will be on master's degrees. They are expected to conduct research, but it won't be as heavy as the research universities. Member schools: Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State, Valdosta State and West Georgia.

State Universities: This category will be divided into two subgroups. One will have a balance of bachelor's and master's degrees with very few doctoral programs. Schools: Armstrong Atlantic, Columbus, Georgia College, Georgia Southwestern and North Georgia. The others in this group will emphasize four-year degrees with only some master's programs. Schools: Albany, Clayton, Fort Valley, Savannah and Southern Polytechnic.

State Colleges: This category also has two subgroups. The first will have a balance of bachelor's and associate degrees. Schools: Abraham Baldwin, Coastal Georgia, Dalton, Georgia Gwinnett, Gordon and Middle Georgia. The other group will emphasize associate degrees and offer "very few" bachelor's degree programs. Schools: Atlanta Metropolitan, Bainbridge, Darton, East Georgia, Georgia Highlands, Georgia Perimeter and South Georgia.

Source: University System of Georgia, draft policy on institutional function and mission

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.