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Regents praise UNG's work on consolidation

Dr. Bonita Jacobs, front row, second from left, poses with Chancellor Hank Huckaby, front row, third from right, and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. The board held its two-day April meeting on UNG's Dahlonega Campus.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) and Regent Philip Wilheit praised the University of North Georgia (UNG) for the positive outcomes of consolidation, as the school hosted the board's two-day April meeting this week.

Wilheit, of Gainesville, is chairman of the Board of Regents and was complimentary of UNG on Wednesday as he introduced Jacobs to provide an update on consolidation. UNG was created in January 2013 from the consolidation of the former Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University, one of four new USG institutions formed in 2013 from eight existing schools.

"As a reminder to the board, these consolidations have been in operation just a little over a year, and I think you'll find it remarkable what UNG has accomplished in that time," Wilheit said.

Before the board and an audience that included USG staff and presidents and administrators from most USG institutions, Jacobs shared the challenges faced in consolidating two institutions from different sectors – different fiscal models, different operational systems and different identities – and how those challenges were addressed. Some areas still are being addressed, such as salary inequities and consolidation of the university's two philanthropic foundations. Click here to see presentation.

Jacobs stressed the importance of communication and transparency throughout the process.

"Nearly 600 decisions had to be made during consolidation and many of these items were complex and had multiple decision points," Jacobs said. "Our process and structure worked extremely well because of the expansive involvement and the strength and experience of our leadership and the committees."

More than 65 work groups that included faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members from all four campuses were created to help inform those decisions, which ranged from developing a unified core curriculum and promotion and tenure guidelines to business operations and campus traditions. The practice of involving all constituencies continues as UNG nears completion of its first strategic plan as a consolidated institution.

More than a year after consolidating, the fears voiced by many that the university would suffer a drop in quality and quantity of students haven't materialized, Jacobs said.

"We've had more applications than we've ever had and the average GPA and SAT scores of those applicants has risen as well, keeping UNG among the top-performing schools in the state," Jacobs said. "We also heard concerns that consolidation would hurt our Corps of Cadets, but we've also seen those applications increase, and the GPA and SAT scores of our cadets rise. The Corps of Cadets at UNG is bigger and stronger than it has ever been."

Jacobs also pointed out that $1 million in savings realized by the consolidation have been redirected to academic and student success programs. UNG also has increased the number of bachelor's degrees offered at the Gainesville Campus from eight to 20 – a point cheered by Regent Ben Tarbutton.

Jacobs detailed how UNG is working with partners across northeast Georgia to improve college completion and increase economic development. With nearly 16,000 students spread among four campuses, UNG offers more than 100 programs of study, ranging from associate degrees to a professional doctorate.

"UNG is greater than the sum of its parts and is well-positioned for a strong future," Jacobs said. "We have exceptional opportunities to contribute to this region and we are very pleased with our progress so far."

USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby added his thanks to UNG for hosting the Board of Regents meeting.

"I think we should give some well-deserved recognition to President Bonita Jacobs and her great staff who put on this event. It is an honor for an institution to host this meeting, but it also is a lot of hard work," Huckaby said. "Our hosts have done an excellent job and we have a greater understanding and appreciation for what's going on at UNG and the solid foundation that's being laid for the future of this institution."

Board actions taken during Wednesday's session included approval of a new mission statement for Kennesaw State University, which is in the process of consolidating with Southern Polytechnic State Institute. The board also heard reports from its various committees.

During Tuesday's session, the board set new tuition rates for the 2014-2015 academic year, raising rates by 2.5 percent for 27 of its 31 institutions. Tuition at the remaining institutions, all research universities, increased as well.

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