GSU, GPC Fixing to Merge; Leaves Uncertain Future for Many Georgia Students
(APN) ATLANTA — Within the span of one quick agenda item during their meeting on Tuesday, January 6, 2015, the Georgia Board of Regents unanimously voted to bring sweeping changes to Georgia State University (GSU) and Georgia Perimeter College (GPC), by merging them into one school.
The Board also finalized the consolidation of Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic and State University, which have been in the process of merging since November 2013.
The merger between GSU and GPC came as a surprise to GSU students who received an email from the school’s president, Mark Becker, at 9:30 p.m. the evening before the Board of Regents meeting, informing them of the impending decision.
“The consolidation would greatly improve opportunities for students and expand Georgia State’s reach and impact across the metro-Atlanta area and the state,” Becker said in the message.
But which students will have these improved opportunities is uncertain.
GSU is currently subject to the Board of Regent’s policy 4.1.6, which bans undocumented students from five state universities.
GPC has 420 undocumented students currently enrolled, according to Barbara Obrentz, a spokeswoman for GPC, told Atlanta Progressive News.
The ban was instituted in 2010, and met with intense backlash, including the creation of Freedom University. Undocumented students who enroll in the cost-free, but unaccredited, program, led by volunteer professors, receive college-level classes, scholarship assistance, and leadership development.
While Freedom University is not accredited, students learn not only about academics, but civic engagement, and sometimes those students are able to go on to accredited schools.
Jeanette Cueva, Freedom U’s former coordinator, was at the Board of Regents’s meeting and told Atlanta Progressive News that she fears GPC will no longer be accessible to undocumented students after the consolidation.
“Being undocumented is hard enough. Being brown is hard enough. Being poor is hard enough. Georgia Perimeter College was one place where undocumented students could go and have reasonable tuition and get an education. With the ban, the Board of Regents is saying that undocumented students aren’t worth being educated, and the further they extend that, the more undocumented students are impacted,” she said.
Charlie Sutlive, a media representative for the Board of Regents, told APN the application of policy 4.1.6 to the new institution is “one of the many details that a campus consolidation committee will be discussing.”
The committee will be made up of students, faculty, and staff from both schools. It will be tasked with creating a consolidation plan to be approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges at the end of 2015, followed by the Board of Regents’s vote to finalize the plan in early 2016.
The affordability of the consolidated school, which will be called Georgia State University and will be helmed by Becker as president, is also unknown.
For the 2014-2015 academic year, tuition at GPC is $84.40 per credit, compared to $270.40 at GSU.
A Q&A page on GPC’s website states that, “The Board of Regents sets tuition and fees and will continue to do so for the newly consolidated institution. The implementation team may recommend a change from the current structure to the BOR once the consolidation has been implemented.”
Other pressing questions with no clear answer include: how many faculty and staff will face layoffs, whether admissions standards will change [it was fairly easy to get into GPC as a way to begin one’s college career], which academic programs and student activities will remain intact, and whether degree requirements or guidelines for promotion and tenure will change.
The Board of Regents have been on a consolidation spree since Chancellor Hank Huckaby launched a consolidation initiative in 2011, a form of triage in response to years of state budget cuts that have drained more than $8.3 billion from education funding, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Since then, eight Georgia colleges and universities have been consolidated into four.
Georgia Regents University is a new university, the result of a merger of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities. This merger was widely opposed, based on the historic nature of Augusta State.
Middle Georgia State College is a new college, the result of a merger of Macon State and Middle Georgia colleges.
South Georgia State College is a new college, the result of a merger of Waycross and South Georgia colleges.
And University of North Georgia is a new university, the result of a merger of Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University.