Georgia leads college consolidation movement

Around the country, institutions are merging at a slower pace, with some proposals facing local backlash
By: | Issue: February, 2015
January 28, 2015

The University System of Georgia has worked to combine several more of its higher education institutions this year in what is likely the nation’s most aggressive and high-profile campus consolidation program.

Around the country, institutions are merging at a slower pace, with some proposed consolidations collapsing under backlash from students and other community members.

“I would expect a trickle rather than a wave” of consolidations, says Leslie McBain, a research analyst who has studied the issue for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “There are many reasons behind consolidations. Demographics and finances intertwine as two primary ones; however, there are also potential academic benefits.”

In January, the Georgia State System finalized Kennesaw State University’s absorption of Southern Polytechnic State University. At the same time, it launched a plan to make Georgia Perimeter College, a two-year school serving the Atlanta suburbs, a part of Georgia State University, already the system’s second largest institution. This move would affect more than 53,000 students, although specifics on campus structure and locations are still to be determined.

Since 2011, Georgia has completed four other consolidations, impacting nine other campuses and cutting the number of institutions in the state system from 35 to 30.

Elsewhere, Arkansas State University and Mid-South Community College (located about 60 miles away) announced a merger to form Arkansas State University Mid-South on July 1.

Mergers can be derailed by a range of issues, including classroom and laboratory space, libraries, faculty or administrative offices, housing, athletic facilities, and even parking, says McBain, who works with the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA.

“There are so many complex logistical issues alone inherent in merging two campuses that the process can snag at any point for good reasons not initially apparent when the consolidation was proposed.”

Failed consolidation efforts in 2014

  • Point University in Georgia and Montreat College in North Carolina: Officials at the two small Christian institutions scrapped the proposal after resistance from the Montreat community, which feared its institution’s campus would be closed.
  • Dodge City Community College and Fort Hays State University in Kansas: In November, trustees shut down a merger agreement under consideration. While some felt the merger would bring more higher education offerings to underserved southwestern Kansas, others were concerned the plan would be too disruptive to the community college, according to published reports.