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Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 1:19pm

Eight Ga. Colleges Officially Become Four

Eight public institutions of higher education across Georgia officially became four on Tuesday, as the state Board of Regents gave final approval to a consolidation scheme that’s been more than a year in the making.

While substantive changes have been—and continue to be—in progress, the big day on campus was all about branding.

Free T-Shirts

In the Student Life Center of the college formerly known as Macon State, young people milled around largely oblivious to a guy spinning hip hop in the DJ booth.

Nor did students seem particularly moved by a proud, ceremonial welcome from Director of Student Life Dee Lindsey.

“Please continue to enjoy yourself, and welcome to Middle Georgia State College,” Lindsey said to a smattering of applause.

Middle Georgia State College is the new name of the institution that combines Macon State College on Macon’s west side, and Middle Georgia College with its three separate campuses miles apart in Cochran, Dublin, and Eastman.

Lindsey’s program coordinator Amy Carter had better luck with the follow-up announcement: “One more thing. How many people like free T-shirts?”

Dozens shouted “woo!” and scrambled in line to get their purple new Middle Georgia State College swag.

No ‘Macon’ Is Good For Macon

Meanwhile, nursing student Lookman Otufale hung to the side, exuding nonchalance. The merger won’t affect his education, he said, but the new logo could boost his prospects.

“I think it gives Macon a good name, actually, to be real,” Otufale said, referring to the absence of “Macon” from the combined institution’s name.

“The word ‘Macon,’ when you hear it at first, it kind of rubs off a bad name to some people,” Otufale said.

“I totally agree about that,” interjected freshman Quaid Banks.

“I grew up in Macon,” Banks said, “I understand it’s a rough neighborhood, you feel me? So by Middle Georgia coming in and combining in a merger, it just means a bigger community.”

While Middle Georgia State College administrators don’t put it quite the same way, they are hoping that consolidation will boost applications. With about 9,000 students right now and excess capacity across four distinct campuses, they’re hoping to crack 10,000 by the fall.

’You Only Need One President’

State higher education officials hope consolidation will save money, among other goals.

Middle Georgia State College has already saved about $1.3 million by leaving some high-level openings vacant at the former Middle Georgia College and Macon State, said interim president John Black.

“You have one academic dean in a school. And so we have been able to consolidate some schools, and we’ve saved some of those positions,” Black said. “Obviously you only need one president if you only have one institution, so we’ve been able to save a presidential salary in all of this.”

But officials at the new University of North Georgia aren’t as optimistic. They say both the old Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega were already lean on administrators, and re-branding all the signage and published materials will cost millions.

’Choices Had To Be Made’

Consolidation, on the whole, has not gone as smoothly in North Georgia.

“I do not feel that Gainesville State has had as much input into the new institution as I would have thought it would,” said Martha Nesbitt, the recently-retired president of Gainesville State.

Many top positions within the combined school have been filled with people from North Georgia College, Nesbitt said. But she added that a positive outcome of the consolidation is that "it will be much easier to begin to offer baccalaureate degrees on the Gainesville campus. And this is very important because Gainesville has the advantage of being a convenient location."

Bonita Jacobs, president of the old North Georgia College and now the combined University of North Georgia, said she’s doing her best to keep things balanced within the new structure of a single organization.

“Choices had to be made,” Jacobs said. “On the Dahlonega campus, our language faculty are concerned because the requirements for language have been lessened. When you're looking at a core curriculum that has to be decided through a process with a lot of faculty input which is what we did.”

Even more difficult choices are ahead regarding faculty salaries, Jacobs said, which are generally lower on the Gainesville campus.

Nesbitt estimates it will cost between $1.5 million and $2 million to make salaries more equitable, based on employee qualifications.

A spokesperson for the University of North Georgia says there are campus communities that believe consolidation is positive overall.