The beginnings of public higher education in the State can be traced to 1784 when the General Assembly set aside 40,000 acres of land for the endowment of "a college or seminary of learning." During the following year, a charter was granted for the establishment of Franklin College, now the University of Georgia. The state later provided appropriations for establishing the following branches: School of Technology in Atlanta, 1885 (now Georgia Tech); Georgia Normal and Industrial College for Girls, Milledgeville, 1889 (now Georgia College & State Univ.); Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youths, Savannah, 1890 (now Savannah State University); and the South Georgia Normal School, Valdosta, 1906 (now Valdosta State University). Later, the legislature established an agricultural and mechanical arts (A&M) school in each congressional district.
In 1929, Governor L. G. Hardman established a committee charged with recommending reorganization of higher education. The most significant idea was the creation of a central governing board. On August 28, 1931, the Reorganization Act was signed which created the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. The Act called for the governor to appoint eleven members, one from each congressional district, and one at large.
In its January 1932 meeting, the Board adopted the following Statement of Plan:
It is the conviction of the Board of Regents that the people of Georgia intended to ordain by the Act creating the Board that the twenty-six institutions comprising the University System should no longer function as separate, independent, and unrelated entities competing with each other for patronage and financial support.
The manifest purpose of the Act creating the Board of Regents is to unify and coordinate the work of these institutions so that the educational program of each shall be integrated with that of every other institution and with the system as a whole. The result aimed at is a correlated, harmonious, and symmetrical structure free from wasteful duplications, but providing the maximum of educational opportunity to the students of the State. In short, the emphasis has been shifted from the interests of particular institutions to the interests of the State.
While the traditions, the welfare and the prestige of the several branches of the system will be an object of care on the part of the Board, all of their problems are to be finally resolved by the answer to the question: What will best serve the educational interests of the State as a whole?
With this as the paramount consideration, the constant aim of this body will be to establish and maintain a system of higher education that will command the sympathy and support of our educational leaders, and at the same time successfully meet our needs by offering the young men and women of Georgia the maximum of education.
To accomplish this result, the Regents will, after careful study, take such steps that to them seem best to coordinate and unify these institutions so that they will be related in purpose and regulated in scope. The only competition in which these schools will hereafter engage will be for preeminence in service and scholarship.
The Reorganization Act of 1931 transferred to the new Board the responsibility for 26 institutions. The Board began immediate reorganization by abolishing the A&M schools and two additional schools and creating two other institutions. The net result was that the System was reduced to 18 institutions. The earliest recorded enrollment was 8,035 in Fall 1933. The System was appropriated $1,900,500 by the State for 1932-33 but received only $1,624,928. In 1941, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools withdrew the accreditation of 10 University System institutions because of irregularities and incidences of outside interference into academic activities at the institutions. In 1943, newly-elected Governor Ellis Arnall sponsored a constitutional amendment to remove such interference by making the Board a constitutional body. The amendment was overwhelmingly approved by the voters.
The principles enumerated in the 1932 policy statement have guided the development of a unified system. Today the Board continues to have constitutional authority to govern, control, and manage the University System, as reaffirmed in the approval of the new state constitution in 1982. These powers include the authority for program approval or discontinuance, internal allocation of the budget, facilities construction, and decisions concerning adding new institutions, upgrading or downgrading the level of an institution, or closure or merger of institutions.
The University System is currently composed of 34 institutions (four universities, two regional universities, 13 state universities, and 15 associate degree colleges). In addition, three of the associate colleges and one state university maintain a postsecondary vocational-technical unit in cooperation with the State Board of Technical and Adult Education.
Sources: "Historical Highlights of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia," Henry G. Neal, 1981; University System Annual Reports