Regents Seek General Assembly Approval for New College in Gwinnett County
Atlanta — October 13, 2004
The Board of Regents took another step forward today in implementing their plan to transition the Gwinnett University Center (GUC) to a full-fledged state college.
The board authorized a motion to seek a resolution from the Georgia General Assembly in the upcoming 2005 legislative session approving the creation of a new state college in Gwinnett County. Their action followed a presentation to the board conducted by Senior Vice Chancellor for Academics and Fiscal Affairs Dr. Daniel S. Papp and Robert E. Watts, who serves both as a senior policy advisor to University System Chancellor Thomas C. Meredith and as interim director of the Gwinnett University Center.
If approved by the General Assembly, University System of Georgia officials would build upon the existing Gwinnett University Center infrastructure in shaping the new institution. The new state college would become the 35th public institution in the University System of Georgia – the first created since Bainbridge, East Georgia and Waycross colleges were authorized by the legislature in 1970.
“The transition from a University Center to a state college in Gwinnett County is the next logical step to take in meeting the exploding demand for a permanent higher education institution in this burgeoning part of the state,” said Meredith.
Pending approval by the General Assembly, the Board of Regents would pursue the following next steps to create the new state college:
- Create and approve a mission statement for the college;
- Approve an organizational structure;
- Develop a three-year transition plan between the current structure at Gwinnett University Center and the new college;
- Develop a budget plan;
- Hire a president;
- Approve academic programs; and
- Approve required policies for the institution.
Plans for the new state college emanated from the Board of Regents’ “statewide assessment” document that explores options for meeting a projected increase of 200,000 more students in the University System by 2015. The decision was driven by the regents’ current Strategic Plan, which includes among its goals the need to re-examine the role, structure and organization of university “residence centers” – of which the GUC is one of nine – to assure they are serving the needs of local communities.
A “residence center” is defined as a permanent off-campus location at which one or more University System institutions offer degree programs, while a state college is a stand-alone institution serving regional economic development needs through access and limited baccalaureate degree programs.
The transition from a “University System residence center” to a state college would take place over a three-year period to allow current students to complete their degree programs and plan for their academic future. That time frame also would allow current institutions at the GUC to handle faculty and staff transitions.
In the presentation to the Board, Papp and Watts outlined the key factors supporting the plan to create a new state college in Gwinnett. These included: current size, the current and projected growth rate, an analysis of the administrative and educational cost structure of the Center compared to the proposed state college, and the institutional mission of the new institution. Papp cited that the GUC’s current size makes it the ninth-largest University System site. “We are not starting from scratch,” Papp said. “The facilities already exist, and the students are already there.”
Currently, the GUC offers more than 8,000 students a range of undergraduate programs and limited graduate degree programs through Georgia Perimeter College (7,000 freshmen and sophomores), the University of Georgia (350 juniors and seniors and 641 graduate students), Southern Polytechnic State University and the Medical College of Georgia (43 students in selected undergraduate degree programs).
More importantly, enrollment at the GUC is exploding, with student growth rising faster than the University System’s own projections in the GUC master plan, said Papp. “Enrollment at the GUC is increasing by 1,000 students per year – that’s a 123 percent increase over the last five years,” Papp said. Originally, enrollment was projected to be 4,000 students in 2004 instead of the current 8,000. Beyond the Center’s enrollment growth, Papp noted that the growth of Gwinnett County also is a major factor. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that Gwinnett’s population will top one million people by 2020. Gwinnett has the largest school system in the state and is the largest county east of the Mississippi without a stand-alone, four-year public college or university. Another factor in the decision-making was GUC’s current administrative structure. Papp noted that with both Georgia Perimeter College and UGA offering degree programs, both have admissions, advising, and financial aid offices as well as other student support services. A stand-alone institution would eliminate this administrative duplication.
“Having a state college offer four-year degree programs is the most cost-effective way to deliver educational programming,” said Watts. GUC’s primary mission is to provide classroom instruction, versus conducting scholarly research. Therefore, the new institution would see significant cost savings by adopting the state college model for educational delivery over the research university model.
Watts noted that the GUC’s original mission was to serve as a unique learning laboratory to develop high-tech and alternative instructional delivery methods; however, demand at the institution built so rapidly that focus shifted to meeting students needs through more traditional, rather than innovative, means. The creation of a new state college would provide the Regents with the opportunity to redefine the institution’s mission, emphasizing areas such as academic programs, alternative learning models, privatization of support functions, and the innovative use of technology.