Middle Georgia State wraps up first year, looks to future

jmink@macon.comNovember 9, 2013 

The past year has been anything but easy for Middle Georgia State College. After all, merging two colleges is not a simple process.

As the new college prepares to welcome a new president and seek university status, officials reflect on its first year, which has been filled with changes and challenges, as well as successes.

“It’s been an interesting year. I think it’s been a challenging year,” said Albert Abrams, the college’s vice president for external affairs. “People have risen to the occasion and are excited about moving the institution forward.”

With more than 8,150 students, the new college is the result of the consolidation of Macon State and Middle Georgia colleges. Now the new institution boasts five campuses, a merged faculty and an overhaul of some programs.

The objective for the end of this year was for the two former colleges to be operating as one. It’s a goal officials say they have reached, although the road has been difficult at times.

That road has involved aligning two sets of faculty, curriculum and programs. Officials were tasked with developing standard technology for all five campuses and making sure the right infrastructure was in place for that technology, said Marti Venn, vice president for academic affairs.

Additionally, “for faculty, one of the challenges is: How do we work across a multi-campus entity now?” Venn said. “We’re analyzing our schedules to make sure students can get the classes they need.”

Officials are developing ways for instructors to efficiently teach at different campuses. It’s a process that requires new technology and professional development, Venn said.

But in addition to classes and faculty, the college has spent the past year merging different histories and traditions, Abrams said.

“Each community, each campus has its own culture,” he said, “and blending those cultures has taken some time.”

Still, officials say they have met those challenges and are ready for a new year with a new president, who will replace interim President John Black. As new president Christopher Blake prepares to take the helm in January, the college already has a set goal -- to become a university within the next two or three years.

“We are going to move briskly,” Blake said, in determining “what does it mean to be a university?”

As early as this week, officials will begin reviewing and tweaking academics. They will examine each degree program, looking at graduation rates and enrollment. They will discuss the skills students will need in the future and prepare the groundwork for future master’s degrees.

“That’s a challenge for everybody in higher education,” Venn said. “What will students need in 2020?”

As they prepare the college to become a university, officials will be looking to add some specific programs in the near future. Some of those programs will target the Cochran campus, where officials hope to boost enrollment, Venn said.

Currently, Middle Georgia State’s athletics are concentrated on the Cochran campus, and officials are considering four-year degrees in sports-related fields such as sports health, which will appeal to student athletes and use the campus sports facilities.

The college also is considering a partnership with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, developing a new program for police and other officers. It would be part of the college’s criminal justice program, using curriculum similar to the training center’s lessons and giving officers credit for their work in the field.

The new programs are just a few of the changes in store for the new college as it enters its second year.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons, but we don’t have the luxury of going backward,” Venn said. “We’re going forward as Middle Georgia State College.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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