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University System of Georgia Chancellor: Merging Campuses Won’t Solve Budget

ATLANTA – Merging historically Black colleges with Georgia’s traditionally White campuses might save money, but it would be detrimental to students, University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. told the Board of Regents on Tuesday.

During his annual state-of-the-system address, Davis tackled an issue raised by state lawmakers last month as they prepare to face an expected $2 billion budget shortfall this fiscal year and even worse numbers for next year. Davis said students choose historically Black colleges because of the unique experience they can get at a campus with smaller classes and a more personal environment.

“We understand the need to be as efficient as possible in the current budget climate,” he said. “We are combining back-office functions and capturing those administrative efficiencies. I believe this is far preferable to blurring the mission of distinct institutions.”

State Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Seth Harp, a Republican, proposed the merger during a meeting in December, saying the state should erase a vestige of Jim Crow-era segregation and “close this ugly chapter in Georgia’s history.”

Harp said Tuesday he plans to go forward with his proposal to merge the campuses.

“We do not have the funds,” Harp said, adding that the state’s colleges and universities could lose as much as $300 million from their budget for next year. “We are facing Draconian cuts, and they will have to share in that cutting just like everybody else did.”

Harp proposed merging the historically Black 3,400-student Savannah State University with nearby Armstrong Atlantic State University, a majority White school that has 6,800 students. Also, historically Black Albany State University, which has about 4,100 enrolled, would combine with nearby Darton College, which has a predominantly White student body with about 4,700 students enrolled.

That would leave the state with just one public historically Black college, Fort Valley State University near Macon.

The new campuses would keep the names of the older and more established Black colleges.

During his speech, Davis talked about other challenges the 35-campus system faces as lawmakers convene this week for the 2009 legislative session.

Georgia colleges and universities enrolled a record number of students this year � 283,000 � while cutting $183 million from their coffers, Davis said. The university system may have to begin capping enrollment at many campuses to simply make ends meet, he said.

“Reason would indicate that a continuing trend of increasing enrollment and decreasing resources is not a formula for success over the long run,” he said.

He noted that already faculty in the university system are making less money than many of their peers, ranking Georgia eighth in salaries among 16 southern states, compared to sixth last year. That means faculty are making 20 percent more than they did nine years ago, compared to 30 percent for the region.

The university system will have to wait until Wednesday to find out Gov. Sonny Perdue’s detailed plans for addressing the budget shortfall. Perdue is scheduled to give his state of the state address and release his proposed budget to lawmakers.

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