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Huckaby: College consolidation still on the table

Huckaby: College consolidation still on the table

Huckaby: College consolidation still on the table

University System Chancellor Hank M. ...

The University System of Georgia recently consolidated eight public higher education institutions into four.

That might not be all, University System Chancellor Hank M. Huckaby told the Downtown Rotary Club of Statesboro during its weekly meeting Thursday morning at RJ’s Steakery.

“There may be an announcement or so in the next 14 months,” he said in response to a question. “I’m not here to make an announcement about consolidation this morning. But it’s clear that we have too many institutions for a state this size and, so, consolidation is something we will continue to give consideration to.”

The first round of consolidations, announced two years ago and officially in place starting with the 2013-2014 academic year, produced:

➤  Georgia Regents University (from Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities),

➤  Middle Georgia State College (from Macon State and Middle Georgia colleges),

➤  South Georgia State College (from South Georgia and Waycross colleges), and

➤  University of North Georgia (from Gainesville State College and North Georgia College and State University).

That reduced the number of University System institutions to 31.

“Quite frankly — (Georgia Southern University President) Brooks (Keel) can attest to this — much of the rest of the country doesn’t understand how we’re able to do it because consolidations are almost impossible to do in certain parts of the country,” Huckaby said. “We not only did one, we did four. It’s a model we continue to look at. There’s a lot of support for it on the Board (of Regents).”

He added that, currently, the system is working to make sure the consolidated institutions are working the way they are supposed to and reviewing “lessons learned” to ensure that any future consolidations go more smoothly.

Keel praised Huckaby’s time as chancellor in his introduction, noting that among several positions he has held, Huckaby served as a state representative in the General Assembly as well as holding teaching and administrative positions at several Georgia higher education institutions.

“Believe me, it’s great to have someone in the chancellor’s position that not only understands higher education, but that understands and has a respect of how the state government works,” Keel said of Huckaby.

The chancellor returned the favor, saying that Georgia Southern is “right at the top of the list” of the University System institutions he visits. Huckaby noted a “special connection” with the campus because his son graduated from Georgia Southern in the early 1990s and met his wife, another GSU graduate, while he was enrolled.

Huckaby focused much of his talk on how the University System is dealing with what he routinely calls the “new normal” of decreasing state money and the rising cost of educating students. Since the recession of 2007-2008, he said, the state has cut more than $1 billion in funding to higher education, and those dollars “most likely” will not come back to prerecession levels.

“So we have to sit back, look in prospectively, and say, ‘What do we do now?’ ” Huckaby said. “Because our obligation still is to do the very best job that we can in educating Georgians, regardless of their age, regardless of their station in life. We have got to have a well-educated citizenry.”

Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

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