Planned merger of eight campuses: Where is promised transparency?

The University System of Georgia’s planned consolidation of eight public campuses into four has sparked some concerns in the affected communities. Here are those of state Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross.

By Mark Hatfield

“We discussed a number of options. We had a number of ideas that were suggested to us. We had ideas come from several of you, we had ideas from legislators, we had ideas bubble up from the communities. We had ideas that came from other sources, and we took all of those and talked about them because we felt like it was important to take anybody’s idea and think about it and look at it.”

These words from Dr. Steve Wrigley, Executive Vice Chancellor of Administration for the University System of Georgia, made at the Jan. 10 Board of Regents’ meeting during which a proposal was unanimously approved to merge eight different public colleges around the state, would initially suggest that the merger decision was reached through much openness, transparency, diligence, and deliberation as to the relative merits of approving or disapproving the proposal.

While transparency is, and ought to be, demanded in the functioning of government, the University System’s claims of transparency thus far in the merger process simply fall flat. I reach this conclusion, along with a great many other citizens of Southeast Georgia, after having witnessed a complete refusal by University System officials to allow the residents of Southeast Georgia to have any input with regard to the consolidation of our local school, Waycross College, with South Georgia College in Douglas, an hour’s drive away.

Waycross’ local officials were first asked to meet with University System officials in a “private” meeting at Waycross College on Jan. 4. At the meeting, Chancellor Hank Huckaby and Board of Regents Chairman Ben Tarbutton, along with staffers, met with our local leadership and notified us that the chancellor was seeking to merge Waycross College into South Georgia College. However, we were shocked to learn that the Board of Regents intended to vote to approve the proposal at its next meeting, less than a week away, although an “official” announcement would not be released by the University System for two more days.

While we were told that the proposed mergers of eight colleges around the state were made necessary by budgetary constraints, and that the mergers would necessarily result in job losses in our community, we were absolutely stunned that the chancellor admittedly had no financial data or analyses to support his decision to move forward with the proposal.

Over the next few minutes, local officials and I raised to the chancellor our concerns about the proposed merger of Waycross College. We explained that Waycross College pulls its student population not just from Ware County, but from a 40-60 mile area and numerous counties around Waycross. We offered that many of Waycross College’s enrollees are non-traditional students who may be older and who may be simultaneously going to school, working a part- or full-time job, and raising a family. We advised that there are many area high school students who are dually enrolled at Waycross College.

Finally, we pointed out that Waycross College is a major factor in boosting economic development in Waycross and Southeast Georgia. For each of these reasons, and for others, we respectfully explained to the chancellor that a change in the status of our college campus, in the course offerings, or in the location of classes may well be devastating to individuals and families in Waycross and Southeast Georgia, as well as to our area economy.

All we asked of the chancellor was just a delay in the Regents’ scheduled vote – a delay to allow our community to be informed of what was happening and to properly state our case.

Our request that morning, as well as the same request made by countless citizens of Waycross, Ware County, and Southeast Georgia over the next few days, fell on deaf ears. The decision had been made, Southeast Georgia was told.

Transparency it seems, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

50 comments Add your comment


January 22nd, 2012
7:03 pm

Oh, you mean by “transparency” that you thought you would have some input? No, not at all. It just means we will tell you what we have decided, not how we got to that decision or to listen to anyone else other than those “chosen” to decide. WE are the Deciders. Done deal.

And you expected the Deciders to look at any data, or delay to listen to your concerns? Preposterous! MOst of the decisions made “for” education matters are made this way!

This is how it works now. Notice which colleges are NOT being consolidated. See if you can figure out any patterns. Draw conclusions as to what the criteria were.


January 22nd, 2012
7:05 pm

By the way, Mr. Hatfield, your colleagues in the legislature do this ALL THE TIME on educational matters, without consulting data, research, experts in the field, or those you expect to have DO what you have decided!

The Poor Lose from Good Mom

January 22nd, 2012
7:26 pm

Every time you “consolidate” a community college you do a disservice to the poor. Poor people can’t move away from home and live in an expensive dorm. The poor work while attending college, which means, they live with their parents and then attend school as well.


January 22nd, 2012
7:37 pm

Very true, GM, but maybe having poor people pull themselves up isn’t high on the list of priorities. After all, “those people” ask to be poor, don’t they? If they behaved responsibly they wouldn’t be poor, right? So think some of our legislators.

Mary Elizabeth

January 22nd, 2012
8:28 pm

Rep. Mark Hatfield was the sponsor of HB 401, the so-called “birther bill,” in last year’s Legislative session. I have wondered how much “transparency” was behind the creation of that bill. Here is information about HB 401 and how it fared in last year’s Legislative session.

“Some Georgia lawmakers couldn’t backpedal fast enough Thursday on a “birther” bill supported earlier this week by a majority of House members. . .Bill sponsor Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, found a more receptive audience with most of the members of a government affairs subcommittee in pushing the issue for nearly an hour on Wednesday. Only Democrats on the committee objected. Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, called it racially and politically divisive.”


January 22nd, 2012
9:53 pm

Having lived in Waycross many years ago and having family still residing there, the small community college needs to stay put or instead of combining with South Georgia College they should join with the technical college that is a stone’s throw from the campus.

As for transparency, Mr. Hatfield is well-versed in the lack of transparency at the Georgia state house. Why is he so surprised?

The idiotic push for a “birther” bill speaks loud and clear to me about his ideology. Of course, having lived in Waycross I’m not surprised that someone like that would be elected.


January 22nd, 2012
9:54 pm

First note: The plan is not, it seems, to close the Waycross campus but to dissolve its existence as a separate college to decrease duplication of administrative services. There are fewer than 1000 students enrolled there, making it smaller than many high schools in Georgia. Does it seems unreasonable to have a college president responsible for two campuses of under 4000 students? Add directors of admissions, financial aid, athletics, etc. and you can see how this makes sense. It is difficult to attract quality faculty to these colleges – perhaps by cutting administrative overhead (see DeKalb Schools story) they can offer more to instructors and improve the education of students in the classrooms.

Second, I have driven Hwy 158 between Douglas and Waycross many times and Rep. Hatfield must be driving a tractor for that trip to take an hour. Most folks I know make it from one campus to another in under 40 minutes. Exaggeration doesn’t help your cause, Mr. Hatfield.

Catlady is correct (as is often the case) in that legislators often don’t consider the data when making decisions on education. These mergers seem reasonable – and when they’re successful maybe the general assembly will revisit the elephant sitting in the room: why do they continue to duplicate USG offerings in Savannah and Albany/ Two public campuses in the same city offering many of the same courses and majors? Darton has 5900 and Albany State 4033 students; their campuses are less than 5 miles apart. Gainesville has 8240 and North Georgia 6145 students; they are 28 miles apart across Lake Lanier and through mountainous areas. Which two are being merged? Hmmm….


January 22nd, 2012
10:07 pm

Savannah State has 3820 students and Armstrong 7500; the drive between campuses is 9.6 miles long according to Google maps. Macon State has 6150 and Middle Georgia 3500 students; their campuses are 47 miles apart. Makes sense that you would merge the schools 47 miles apart rather than those 5 miles apart, correct? Noting that the combined enrollments of these four duos would be nearly the same, do YOU see the elephant in the room?


January 22nd, 2012
10:27 pm

@ Tony: Hatfield got redistricted into a contested race with a Camden Republican so he likely won’t be in the legislature next year. Gotta go out with a bluster, it seems…


January 22nd, 2012
10:28 pm

@ Mary Elizabeth: See how much Georgia Republicans value Hatfield..


January 23rd, 2012
12:37 am

Hey MB please don’t drive so fast on our roads. If you are making that drive in less the 40 mins then you are risking some serious lives.. Stop it.. And yes we know what the elephant in the room is.. ATLANTA….


January 23rd, 2012
1:03 am

It appears that Republican Hatfield did not get the memo about cutbacks in all areas as a part of the conservative “philosophy” to make govt smaller. This is what it’s all about. Does he, and his supporters, think only other people’s programs are cut? He’s either very dumb or this aticle is just public relations cover for the next election. Let me see–I’ll pick B.


January 23rd, 2012
3:44 am

The elephant in the room is another remnant of the era of service stations with 3 restrooms, restaurants with a side window or back door, etc. Yes, go ahead and resolve those issues in Albany, Savannah and Macon/Ft. Valley by merging the newer campus into the older campus as is being done with South Georgia and others and retain the older administration. Rots of ruck with that!!!! The old seggie Democrats who have morphed into “conservative” Republicans would never hear of it. Speaking of elephants, hummm?


January 23rd, 2012
6:45 am

My take on the consolidations…

The decisions were based on the “easier” choice of who was retiring where.

Distance, size/enrollment, impact on the community, impact on the faculty …were considered after the fact. Then the data was used to justify their decision.


January 23rd, 2012
7:04 am

What would make more sense, it seems to me, is to consolidate the technical schools with the 2 year colleges near them, to make a true “community college”. However, the GDTAE holds TREMENDOUS power, even more than the BOR.

So you have one administration. Does the President of the Institution rotate back and forth, or is his/her office on one campus (leaving the other one feeling slighted). The same goes for other higher administrative offices. Or do you have one office on one campus, and another on the other. If so, where is the savings? Or do you force students from one “branch” to drive 47 miles to see the financial aid officer? Who is saving money here?


January 23rd, 2012
7:14 am

Perhaps we should have more “Dalton State College”s in Georgia. Dalton offers a FEW bachelor’s degrees, an array of 2 year preps, and a thriving technical college area.

Come on, Deciders! Think BIG!


January 23rd, 2012
7:20 am

Community colleges and technical schools have completely different educational missions.

Mary Elizabeth

January 23rd, 2012
7:22 am

From my post yesterday, at 5:55 pm on Maureen Downey’s thread entitled, “Can we continue to provide less and less yet ask schools for more and more?”

“The public needs to be, especially, aware today that ‘You get what you pay for.’ Education, and public services in general, may further erode in Georgia, with Georgia’s present political leadership.”


January 23rd, 2012
7:50 am

@ MB,

You start out by saying (correctly, I think) merger does not mean closure. Then, you start questioning other mergers (against the proposed ones nearby) based on enrollment and distance. Certainly we can question why those aren’t also being merged, but the fact that they weren’t being merged doesn’t make other proposals invalid, does it?

@ Tony,

I think the USG does not controll Technical Colleges. Perhaps a merger of the two boards that oversee the two systems should be done, too. Then, what you propose (sensibly) can be done.

HS Public Teacher

January 23rd, 2012
8:21 am

It is TRANSPARENT that other people’s opinions really don’t matter and that budget cuts take priority.

However, I do agree that many of these smaller (and often technical) colleges do need consolidation. This is public money and it needs to be managed wisely.

This is where there is a place for a private company to step in to provide education services.


January 23rd, 2012
8:25 am

I think the formula is we must save money when the other party is in charge or it’s someone else’s district. There are four tech schools near Augusta but the Republicans in charge still needed one in affluent Columbia County. Augusta has the hub, Burke campus is 30 minutes away to the south. McDuffie campus is 30 minutes from Augusta to the West and Columbia County is 10-15 minutes away from either depending which end of the county one lives in. No concern about money when duplicating those services!

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

January 23rd, 2012
8:55 am

HS Public Teacher

January 23rd, 2012
8:21 am

No I dont think so. Once again you are outside the ballpark.


January 23rd, 2012
9:52 am

Some news organizations did an open records request on this:

This makes it pretty clear that the BOR did little research on cost-saving or benefits to students. Instead, they chose the path of least resistance among schools, to make it look like they are getting rid of bureaucracy and thus making government smaller.

In reality, the cost to students at these institutions over the next few years will likely be high. Not only will their instructors be distracted by the constant make-work of combining programs, their tuition is likely to go up.

A win for those in charge who want to fool us into thinking they’re doing something. A loss for Georgians. As usual.


January 23rd, 2012
10:16 am

Transparency? In Georgia?


January 23rd, 2012
10:23 am

So….will the students at Gainesville State have to pay an increase in student fees? Compare the student fees charged at NGCSU and Gainesville Sate.

Will Gainesville State students now have to carry the burden of supporting an athletic program at NCGSU?

Will Gainesville State students have to pay fees to cover the costs of elaborate students centers and athletic facilities?


January 23rd, 2012
10:41 am

This was a done deal before it was made public…but then the university system has become another large government complex with no accuntability. consolidate – will it reduce cost…I bet not, but it will probably create a little more power and a few more government jobs…but I bet tuition will be raised again next year…All in a days work of the elite on the government payroll!


January 23rd, 2012
11:02 am

Gainesville State is a commuter college – no dorms…NGCSU has dorms…how will you decide how to charge fees for services when they don’t match up? What if one class is in Dahlonega, the other in Gainesville? Especially if the NGCSU student who lives in a dorm on a meal plan has to travel to G-ville? Lots of questions beyond these remain, but haven’t even begun to be addressed in a public forum….

Inman Park Boy

January 23rd, 2012
11:19 am

Georgia has too many “community” colleges anyway. Mediocre schools with mediocre teachers. A lof of them are just unnecessary and were built as a sop to come local politico.


January 23rd, 2012
12:07 pm

@ teacher&mom,

On the other hand, students at Gainesville can now participate in the athletic program that may not be available right now. They can also use the student centers and athletic facilities.

@ cris,

On the other hand, students at either campus may be able to take courses that are not currently offered at their institutions – if they are willing to travel.

@ Truth-O-Meter,

I don’t think the USG has any jurisdiction over technical colleges.

@ HS Public Teacher,

Unfortunately, private business won’t be interested in “offering services.” They would be interested in making money – as they should be.


January 23rd, 2012
12:27 pm

I have to say that I think catlady, first to comment here, is correct. It all depends on how you define “transparency.” Judging from how systemic decisions are usually made in higher education and/or the BOR, the word simply means that the authorities are being open about the details of the mergers and their reasoning for making them (or at least part of their reasoning). It certainly doesn’t mean that they will entertain input from outsiders.

I also think that there are factors far beyond efficiency and cost that have and will prevent them merging any of the HBCUs with other USG schools….and, in my own opinion, rightfully so.

HS Public Teacher

January 23rd, 2012
12:37 pm

@Dr. No…. Ask me in 10 minutes if I care about your thoughts….

HS Public Teacher

January 23rd, 2012
12:40 pm

@thomas -

There are already many private schools that thrive and provide technical educaitons. In fact, there are nursing programs, electrican and plumbing programs, and so on. Some of these lead to certifications even in areas such as Microsoft programming.

Are the very same people that want to reduce the size of government and reduce the size of public education NOW wanting to avoid these private insitutions? Inquiring minds what to know WHY?


January 23rd, 2012
12:42 pm

@thomas – So a student who lives in Oakwood (40+ miles) will travel to NGCSU to use the opulent student workout facility?

Yeah right….

USG Employee

January 23rd, 2012
12:55 pm

The University System of Georgia has a faculty governance committee comprised of members from every system school, a system-wide senate as it were. Guess who else wasn’t invited to the discussions? At one point I caught myself thinking, You would think they’d learn…but then I realized They have learned.

God Bless the Teacher!

January 23rd, 2012
1:36 pm

I never have quite understood why Georgia doesn’t have a university system naming protocol similar to California, other than not wanting to call Georgia Tech the University of Georgia at North Avenue. :-) (I’m a Tech graduate…I can take it). Think about it, UG-Waycross, UG-Athens, UG-Albany, etc.

Another USG Employee

January 23rd, 2012
1:39 pm

@HS Public Teacher – many of the private schools and colleges are very expensive and have very high rates of loan default because their students fail or cannot get jobs – think Bauder, AIU, Cordon Bleu.

Let’s not start the tech/2-year college merger talk again. It’s been sufficiently addressed in the past, and as someone earlier correctly pointed out – different missions.

My question to Ms. Downey – now that all but 2 of the 2-year colleges have been made “state colleges”, are we going to have to pay to re-brand all of them with the word “state” in the name as has been done in the past? Georgia Perimeter is already talking about becoming “Georgia Perimeter State College”. Lots of signage to change – look at the former Dekalb Technical College campuses.

P.S. Why wasn’t Atlanta Metropolitan merged with Perimeter? GPC campuses are already scattered everywhere.

Not surprised

January 23rd, 2012
2:29 pm

This is only the beginning. One day we might have GT &GA ST.
The ONLY university that doesn’t have to worry is UGA.
Hell it might take 25 or more years, but how long did it
take to change Ga’s flag?

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

January 23rd, 2012
2:35 pm

There is no tranparnecy and theere will be no transparency.


January 23rd, 2012
2:45 pm

I would NEVER invite a faculty senate into any matter in which I actually wanted a decison. What a joke that would be!

Beverly Fraud

January 23rd, 2012
2:55 pm

Well, there goes the Saran Wrap endorsement deal for state Rep. Mark Hatfield!

Ole Guy

January 23rd, 2012
4:23 pm

When I hear/read the word PROMISE, I become skeptical. When I hear/read the word PROMISE from officialdom, I become VERY skeptical. Maybe that’s why I’ve managed to become both old AND bold. Always believe .1% (plus or minus) of what you hear/read; take the rest with a coupla grains o’salt.

Boris Badnoff

January 23rd, 2012
4:26 pm

If they merge GT and UGA would that mean UGA gets a decent coach and Tech gets some decent players? UGA’s School of Home Economic could be combined with Tech’s School of Management.


January 23rd, 2012
5:16 pm

Actually, in many states, community college means transfer programs AND technical training. And in Georgia the techs have moved to get accreditation of the same level/kind as the two year colleges (COC rather than COE from SACS). They USED to have very different missions. We could save a TON of money consolidating the 2 years and techs, especially consolidating the administration of the BOR and DTAE! THAT would reap tens of millions in savings! Then close down the expansion of the DTAE programs that have “campuses” in every other county!


January 23rd, 2012
5:32 pm

There is another issue no one has yet mentioned. North Ga. coll. and State University is academically one of the top schools in the Ga. university system. SAT scores of entering freshmen are only topped by UGA and GT. Gainesville is a two year institution which only offers a couple of four year programs. There is no doubt that academically, Gainesville is not on par.

Although all the details are not yet known, if the two schools are merged, Georgia will have yet another academically average university.

This is something all the students in Dahlonega know instinctively and it is of great concern to them.


January 23rd, 2012
7:27 pm

@Johnny Even Google maps says that trip takes 42 minutes. I said most folks I know make it under 40 minutes because the Google projection is at a max of 55 mph. (36 miles point to point – and you don’t have to go through Waycross; it’s on the Douglas side of Ware County). Believe me there aren’t many folks who drive only 55mph on that long flat stretch of 82 or 158. My kids fuss because I don’t drive over 60 so you needn’t tell me to stop it, bud.

@thomas. Please read my original post carefully again; sorry if it was confusing. I said “These mergers seem reasonable – and when they’re successful maybe the general assembly will revisit the elephant sitting in the room:” I don’t think the fact the HBCU issue is a hot potato should mean these other mergers shouldn’t take place, but hope that the more geographically-discrete mergers will result in savings that bring the need to eliminate duplication of services in the same city to a head.

I agree they need to look at duplication of administrative costs in particular. How often does a student visit with the person in charge? They’ll likely go to an admissions or financial aid officer in Waycross, who’ll report to someone in Douglas. You’re not paying that administrative salary at both sites. If one director of financial aid can serve UGA with 34,000 students…


January 23rd, 2012
9:52 pm

They are already requiring staff to resubmit resumes to keep their jobs. The reason the merger is supposed to take 12-18 months (Fall 2013) is because ALL FACULTY have to have at least 12 months notice before they are given their pink slips. It will be in with their contracts this July.

history teacher

January 24th, 2012
12:08 am

With HOPE in for more cuts and tuition and fees going up, we need to be opening more satellite and community campuses for those students who will need work, live at home and go to college.My daughter is on full hope and we still paid close to $5000 for fees, dorm and books for the semester and it is only going to get worse. Thank God she is almost finished.

To Old Guy from Good Mom

January 24th, 2012
6:32 am

YOu mentioned you work in the avaiation industry. May I ask what you do speficially? Are you a pilot? A dispatcher? Air traffic controller? IT Manager?


January 24th, 2012
6:39 am

Is anyone surprised that Hank Huckaby and the rest of his UGA cronies like Stevie Wrigley want to drain money from the “lesser” colleges in GA? Can’t let his buddies at UGA go without their annual raises.
These clowns are a disgrace to higher education and NEED to be removed before they do any more damage.


January 24th, 2012
9:29 am

@ Good Mom, 6:32 am. Why do you think that you can believe what Ole Guy says about his “career” in aviation? He also claims to have extensive teaching experience, although he says he was hired in the 1990s without a teaching certificate. Back in those days, the certificate was pretty much required of everyone.