COCHRAN -- As the University System of Georgia Board of Regents prepares to act on a proposal to consolidate eight schools into four, those with ties to Middle Georgia College and Macon State College -- two schools involved in the plan -- have mixed emotions.
Macon State and Middle Georgia College are slated to become one consolidated institution under a plan proposed by University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby.
Officials say the consolidation could lead to an increased number of program offerings for students and create a more efficient administration, as the system strives to find new ways to strengthen academic options while dealing with limited resources.
The proposal will be reviewed by the Board of Regents at its meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, with the final decision resting with the board.
Scarlett Lirely, a second-year communications and information technology student at Macon State, said the plan seems like a good idea that will increase academic opportunities for students.
“That really can’t be a bad thing,” Lirely said. “Anytime companies merge, that allows more resources. Plus, if they’re keeping all the campus locations, it keeps the convenience of the education while adding to it.”
Others have concerns about what the merger might mean for school employees.
“Someone’s going to have to be fired or laid off,” said Lee Howard, who attended Middle Georgia College in the 1980s. “If the president of Macon State is going to take over, why is he going to take the people from Middle Georgia College when he already has a working relationship with the people at Macon State? So a lot of people at Middle Georgia College will probably be out of a job, which will be another hit to the economy of Cochran and Bleckley County.”
Macon State President Jeff Allbritten is slated to head the consolidated institution, but system officials have said both schools will have equal input on the merging process.
Cochran Mayor Cliff Avant said he was initially concerned about the plan, but after hearing more about the proposal, his worries were put to rest.
“My first thought was ‘Oh my gosh. They’re going to shut down Middle Georgia College,’ ” he said. “But after speaking with officials, I realize that this will be a good thing for both schools and communities.”
One downside would be potentially losing Middle Georgia College President Michael Stoy, who has been a great asset to the Cochran community, Avant said.
Samantha Taranowski, a student at Middle Georgia College, said if the merger increases educational offerings, she’s all for it.
However, she wondered how merging academic departments could impact students working to fulfill degree requirements under the current system.
Christine Moore, a student at Macon State said consolidation could also allow students to move more easily through the system, allowing students to have all their records and credit hours saved in one system.
Her classmate Shelia Dewberry agreed, saying that may cut down on difficulties in transferring credits from place to place.
“It was a nightmare getting all my stuff transferred (from Georgia Military College),” Dewberry said. Georgia Military College is not part of the University System of Georgia.
Blake Hoover, a student at Middle Georgia College, said he doesn’t see the need to merge the schools if officials weren’t sure how much money would be saved.
“If they’re not forced to cut anything, why make cuts?” said Hoover, who moved from Asheville, N.C.
Howard said he expects very little money to be saved by the plan, and that would not be worth affecting the legacy of his alma mater.
“If you combine Middle Georgia with Macon State, you’re losing all that history for Middle Georgia College,” he said.
Howard also wondered how the consolidation would affect Middle Georgia athletic programs, which currently compete at the junior college level.
“Something that I don’t think everyone’s thought about or looked (at) really is by the time the merger goes through, our baseball coach will probably be looking for recruits for the 2012-13 baseball team, and some of the recruits may not want to come to Middle Georgia College if it’s a four-year school.”
Howard is a member of the board of directors for the Middle Georgia College Diamond Club, which supports the school’s baseball team.
Middle Georgia College, more than 100 years old, has a rich history, Avant said. Many Bleckley County and Cochran residents have attended Middle Georgia College, so he said he expects some people to be upset until they have a better understanding of what the plan means for the school.
If approved, University System officials said the consolidation process will begin immediately, lasting 12 to 18 months with a target date of completion by fall 2013.
To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 256-9751.