On Friday, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby said he will ask the Board of Regents to approve the plan for consolidation in a couple of weeks. If approved, the merger would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.
Huckaby said he will form an implementation team with representatives from both institutions to work out the details and submit the documents required for accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges.
The State Board of Regents merged eight Georgia colleges into four in January in an effort to reduce administrative costs and relieve some of the burden on state funding of higher education.
State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on higher education, said Huckaby has a good track record with merger decisions and there has already been a positive impact on the state’s budget.
“We had to get a handle on this,” said Ehrhart, whose northwest Cobb district is near both campuses.
None of the mergers have been in the metro Atlanta area, until now. KSU is in unincorporated Cobb County near Kennesaw off Interstate 75. Ten miles away is SPSU in Marietta south of the 120 Loop.
Ehrhart said other schools in metro Atlanta that meet the guidelines for consolidation should be merged to cut down on inefficiencies.
“I don’t think we are at the end of this yet,” Ehrhart said. “Students suffer when steps aren’t taken to move forward.”
Kennesaw State University, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in October, is the third-largest university in the University System of Georgia.
The fall 2013 enrollment of KSU and SPSU combined would be 31,178 students, just shy of Georgia State University’s 32,087 enrollment number.
“This proposal offers us some exciting possibilities to enlarge our academic outreach through the existing talent and resources at both these institutions,” Huckaby said.
Southern Polytechnic State University, founded 65 years ago with a move to Cobb County in 1961, embraces the practical application of science, engineering and technology.
Over the past six years, Southern Polytechnic’s enrollment has increased 36 percent, an increase of 4,460 students. Enrollment now stands at slightly above 6,500.
In October 2011, SPSU President Lisa Rossbacher told the MDJ that she saw no advantage in a KSU and SPSU merger and that Cobb benefits greatly by having two separate public universities.
KSU has focused on nursing, business, information systems, and education programs and offers twice the amount of graduate degrees as SPSU.
Betty Siegel, who was president of KSU from 1981 to 2006, said the possibility of the merger was discussed during her tenure at the university and that she “applauds the decision.”
KSU President Dan Papp will serve as president of the consolidated university.
“The message to all the students, faculty and staff is that SPSU is an excellent institution,” Papp said.
Papp, who was the interim president of SPSU from 1997-1998, added that most, if not all, of the degree programs offered by SPSU will remain and the high quality of the SPSU education will continue.
Millions in savings expected
The annual impact on the region by the two universities is $1.15 billion, according to John Millsaps, spokesman for the University System of Georgia.
Millsaps said the focus of the merger is to find the best way to serve college students in Georgia and that savings from the consolidation would be redirected into further approving the academic programs.
Millsaps said there are no projections on the money that will be saved in the latest merger, but savings from the previous eight merged colleges range from $5 million to $7 million.
Papp said he expects the savings to be in the millions of dollars since the merger of KSU an SPSU is larger than any of the previous college mergers in Georgia.
Job cuts coming, but no word on numbers
There has been no determination on what positions between the two schools would be repetitive and therefore eliminated, Millsaps said.
When asked for a percentage of the staff and faculty of both KSU and SPSU who are likely to be laid off, Millsaps said, “That is a question that at this point is too early to say anything about.”
Papp said there will be cuts to office staff to reduce administrative overhead.
“We will be looking at all positions and will handle any cuts with the greatest sensitivity possible,” Papp said.
Roger Tutterow, a professor of economics at Mercer University who also taught at KSU from 1991 to 2005, said the merger is a necessary step to get control of education costs.
If the two universities are serving the same market, it is not justifiable to remain independent, Tutterow said.
Tutterow said he has not seen an analysis of the savings and said there is a great challenge ahead to combine both schools’ financial and registrar systems.
In the long-run, Tutterow said the consolidated school will be stronger by offering a broad range of programs without raising costs.
The costs would be higher if the two schools spent money to broaden their degree programs independently, instead of combining to share the load, Tutterow said.
Southern Polytechnic State University history
- In 1948 founded as a two-year division of Georgia Institute of Technology in Chamblee, Georgia
- In 1949 became the Southern Technical Institute and recognized as a college-level school by the U.S. Department of Education.
- In 1961 moved to Marietta, Georgia with eight buildings on 120 acres of land (SPSU campus now encompasses more than 203 acres and contains 65 buildings)
- In 1970 became accredited as a four-year college and separated ties with Georgia Tech by 1980
- In 1987 became Southern College of Technology
- In 1996 became Southern Polytechnic State University
Enrollment numbers for fall 2013
Kennesaw State University
24,629 students – 22,670 undergraduate, 1959 graduate, 22 doctoral
Southern Polytechnic State University
6,550 students - 5,729 undergraduate, 821 graduate
Steps for approval
- The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia must approve the consolidation plan during the November 12 and 13 meetings.
- The board of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) must approve the plan in December 2014.
- The Board of Regents approves the new institution in January 2015.