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Thursday, January 5, 2012 - 3:32am

8 Colleges Slated For Merger

State University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby has announced plans to merge eight state college campuses into four to save money.

A proposal announced Thursday would consolidate the following campus pairs:

Waycross College and South Georgia College in Douglas;
Augusta State College and Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta;
Middle Georgia College in Cochran and Macon State College; and
Gainesville College and North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega.

The physical campuses would remain, but faculty and staff could be cut and students could have to study in new, possibly farther-off locations.

Distance learning over the Internet would be encouraged.

The campus pairs would form consolidation working groups to determine details such as which positions would be cut and which name -- if a new name isn't chosen -- would be kept.

Two campuses long seen as merger candidates, Savannah's Armstrong Atlantic and Savannah State Universities, were off the list, spreading relief in the coastal city.

Savannah State National Alumni President Roy Jackson says, given the colleges' histories as perennial consolidation targets, he's not resting.

"It may just lie dead for a number of years," Jackson says. "It may lie dead for even a decade. But then it comes back up. So while we applaud this, we are not going to sleep on this issue because we know it always comes back up."

The merger talks have put campuses on edge for months.

"Whenever there's a budget crunch for the state, it always comes around," Jackson says. "And that's why I hope that, after this, it can be put to rest and be the kind of issue that folks will see no merit in bringing up because it really at this point has no merit."

If the Board of Regents approve the recommendations, Chancellor Huckaby says, the consolidation process would begin immediately.

"Georgia needs more of its citizens completing some level of post-secondary education," Huckaby says. "But we have to achieve this goal by considering some different approaches... that put the needs of our students and the imperative to reach this goal first and foremost. These proposed consolidations are the right approach for us to take at the right time in the System and the State's history."

The process could take 12-18 months, with consolidations implemented by the fall semester of 2013.