Falling enrollment numbers at both schools cited as one reason for consolidation.ALBANY —
The Georgia Board of Regents created perhaps the biggest controversy to hit higher education in Albany Tuesday morning when it voted unanimously to consolidate Albany State University and Darton State College under the umbrella of Albany State.
On Thursday, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby and Albany State President Art Dunning sat down with The Herald to answer questions and concerns about the decision.
Huckaby said the merger had been under consideration for several years, but the tipping point came after he got a look at the University System of Georgia’s Fall enrollment report which showed ASU down 10.7 percent and Darton down 2.7 from the previous year.
“We’ve monitored enrollment patterns and we have a funding formula in place, and the two schools were not growing, not earning more money. But it was not just enrollment problems. We look at things like the program cuts and knew we had to turn that around,” Huckaby said. “There was some discussion of folding four institutions (ASU, Darton, Georgia Southwestern and Bainbridge) into one. But this merger, with the close proximity of the two campuses, made sense.”
Dunning said the “new” ASU will be able to offer a broader array of programs to a more diverse group of students, despite the university’s HBCU (Historically Black College and University) designation.
“The new ASU, as it always has been, will be an inviting place for every person in southwest Georgia and the state of Georgia. So the (HBCU) designation isn’t going to change that,” Dunning said. “As a larger institution we are going to ratchet up and enhance the sort of academic offerings that lead directly to gainful employment. We will have one of the most diverse campuses in the the University System of Georgia. That is the intent.
“We are going to look at academic programs, offerings and look at community engagement and economic development. This broader array of academic programs will allow us to do that.
Dunning added that the response from ASU alumni has been generally positive.
“I talked to a number of alumni at the (ASU- Fort Valley State) football game in Columbus, and they are very much on board. We’re talking about ‘one Albany’ right now, and people are excited,” Dunning said. “I think the way this has been framed is the right way, the right way to address the needs of this congressional district. People are respectful of both institutions’ past, but they’re excited about the new university’s future.”
Huckaby said that another factor in the consolidation was the USG’s need to “optimize the resources available to us.”
“Believe it or not, but we spend a lot of time in Atlanta talking about problems in Southwest Georgia … education, the economy … and what we can do about it,” Huckaby said. “We think this merger is part of that solution. We have 30 schools in the university system. Last year, 18 had increased enrollment and 12 had declining enrollment. Unfortunately, a lot of the declines were in this region.
The Chancellor added that falling numbers at ASU are not just a problem with Georgia’s HBCUs, but it’s also a nationwide trend.
“When you look at our enrollment data of African-American students systemwide, we fall close to around 100,000 students. Only about 10 to 20 percent of African-Americans go to HBCUs,” Huckaby said. “They can go anywhere they want to go, and that’s what’s happening. That is some of the reason for the decline in enrollment at Albany State and Fort Valley. Art is right about the diversity of the campus. When we started the consolidations our goal was not to save money on the bottom line. We wanted to be able to invest more money on academic programs, and that is what we’ve done in every case.
“We want our HBCUs to thrive and to be as strong academically as any other school in our system.”
As far as Darton’s role as a two-year school which produces associate degree graduates along with certificates, Huckaby does not see a change in that mission. He added that tuition for associate degree programs would remain lower than those pursuing baccalaureate degrees.
Huckaby said 20-member teams from each campus will be formed in about two weeks to assess the needs of the combined schools and make recommendations to the Regents. He added that the committees would first define the new university’s mission before looking over “800 to 900” decision points.
“Ideally, the 20-member panels from each school will have a plan put together by September or October, and we could get final SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) approval by next January,” he said.
Dunning added that signature programs — ones which attract students — will play a crucial role in making the merger work.
“Students today are looking for signature programs. We must determine what programs the new ASU will be known for,” Dunning said. “Supply chain logistics is important, but we also want to emphasize the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs. And in order for our community to have a well-trained work force, we need for adults to come back to school.”
Huckaby said he hopes to have an interim president in place at Darton within the next two weeks.http://www.albanyherald.com/news/2015/nov/12/art-dunning-hank-huckaby-discuss-albany-state/