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Chancellor of University System of Georgia recommends institution consolidations of Georgia Southern and Armstrong State and two others

Category: Education/Colleges/Universities

By Lou Phelps, Brunswick Business Journal

January 6, 2017 – The University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley announced plans today to recommend two consolidations to the Board of Regents: Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University, and also the consolidation of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) and Bainbridge State College.

The Board will act upon the recommendations at its Jan. 11 meeting next week. 

If approved, the two new institutions will be named Georgia Southern University, to be led by President Jaimie Hebert, and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, to be led by President David Bridges.

The consolidation of these four institutions is expected to enable the University System to better serve students, broaden or redesign academic programs offered in the coastal and south Georgia regions and reinvest savings into academics to improve student success, according to the Chancellor, in today’s press announcement.

Local officials in the Savannah area were very positive about the consolidation, despite deep ties to Armstrong State, and its long-respected brand name.  The positive financial impact for Chatham County is expected to be significant, they state.

“This is the best thing that’s happened to Savannah in a long time, without any hesitation, said Alderman at Large Brian Foster.  “I have supported this and Don Waters and the Board of Regents’ efforts in this, totally.  Don asked for me feedback, and I was supportive,” he added.

Foster is the former Chairman for the Armstrong State University Foundation, and chaired the Educational Properties Foundation at ASU, which built all the new dorms, the ASU student center and the Armstrong Center on Abercorn Street.  Foster helped lead them through the bonding process to get them built.

“Clearly, Savannah is going to be a world-class city and we need a world-class institution to support Gulfstream and the Ports and all of our regional medical centers.  This will be tremendous for them, because we’ll have an expanded engineering department here from GSU, and an expanded health sciences department here. And you won’t have students from GSU traveling I-16 to Savannah to train at area hospitals,” he added.

“Armstrong has always been on the short-end of getting funding from the State because you had GSU 45 mins down the road,” Foster explained. 

“For the City of Savannah, we’ll have close to 30,000 students, and it will grow bigger than that, and that will mean that it can evolve into a research university here, as well. There are only four research universities in the state, are they’re  all in North Georgia. This will bring research dollars, dot coms and other companies to Savannah … get some of the wealth in North Georgia created on the coast of Georgia.  This is going to be huge.” 

According to Chancellor Wrigley, “Creating the new Georgia Southern University will combine the best of both institutions, which are just an hour apart and ultimately serving many of the same students,” said Wrigley. “Consolidating Armstrong and Georgia Southern will create one institution with expanded regional presence, tailored degree programs for the coastal region and positioned to significantly enhance the University System’s economic impact for the area.”

Georgia Southern is already the number-one transfer choice for Armstrong students, and both institutions are among the top destinations for students seeking public higher education from Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties.

According to the Chancellor, initial opportunities from consolidating Georgia Southern and Armstrong include:

• Creates an institution of more than 27,000 students, making it the fourth largest public university in Georgia.

• Creates a more comprehensive university that serves the needs of the region with a range of degree programs for high demand careers, such as engineering and health care.

• Expands upon Armstrong’s expertise as the University System’s largest producer of undergraduate health professionals.

• Creates opportunities for raising graduation rates for students with Georgia Southern’s best practices.

• Builds on Armstrong’s nationally recognized leadership in supporting student veterans and active-duty military, which will enable the new institution to reach a much larger student population.

• Reinvests savings from administrative efficiencies into programs to support student success.

• Ensures the new Georgia Southern University’s Savannah campus offerings effectively balance with and complement those provided by Savannah State University.

In south Georgia, the recommended consolidation proposes to expand upon ABAC’s specialized-degree programs that are uniquely meeting the needs of agriculture, the largest industry in Georgia.

“Consolidating ABAC and Bainbridge creates a unique opportunity to strategically align Bainbridge State’s degree offerings with workforce and regional needs,” said Wrigley.

In addition, ABAC has become a leader in new student recruitment, enrollment management and academic achievement and will bring these best practices to Bainbridge State, which has been facing enrollment declines over the last five years.

 “We are committed to serving south Georgia in public higher education and our partnership with the Tifton and Bainbridge communities,” said Wrigley. “This consolidation is a long-term investment of the University System in south Georgia.”

Initial opportunities from consolidating ABAC and Bainbridge State include:

• Expands upon ABAC’s specialized-degree programs that have successfully identified and partnered with the needs of agriculture.

• Strategically aligns degree offerings with workforce and regional needs with a focus on agriculture utilizing a select range of degrees currently offered at ABAC.

• Establishes a simpler path for associate-degree students to achieve bachelor’s degrees.

• Applies ABAC’s best practices in new student recruitment, enrollment management and academic achievement.

• Maintains access for students in Bainbridge to the Technical College System of Georgia certificate/diploma programs.

• Continues to serve local high school students in the Bainbridge area through the highly successful Move On When Ready dual-enrollment program.

• Reinvests savings from administrative efficiencies into programs to support student success.

The recommendation to consolidate the four institutions follows the six guiding principles for consolidation approved by the Board in Nov. 2011, according to the Chanceller, which can be found at: http://www.usg.edu/news/release/regents_approve_principles_for_consolidation_of_institutions.

If the Board approves the recommendation, implementation teams with representatives from the campuses will soon be formed for the two consolidations. The two, separate implementation teams will be charged with the responsibility to work out the many details associated with each consolidation.

The University System and the four institutions will hold campus and community listening sessions in the coming months to seek and hear input on ways to best design the new institutions to serve their respective regions and the state.

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