Georgia Perimeter College and all other two-year colleges could close and be absorbed into the state’s Technical College System if Gov. Sonny Perdue decides to adopt the recommendations of a working group he formed last summer with the task of researching ways to create long-term, comprehensive education reform.
Though the governor’s office says the final report has not yet been released and is still in the discussion phase, a Dec. 15 rough draft of the recommendations from the "Tough Times or Tough Choices" Working Group is currently circulating between educators across the state.
Key recommendations affecting the status of GPC in the report include "charging the current Technical College System to administer all technical and 2-year academic programs offered in Georgia, thus building a Technical and Academic College System of Georgia (TACSG)."
The report recommends that the University System of Georgia (USG) focus "exclusively on research, 4-year degree programs and graduate degree programs." Community colleges are currently part of the USG.
The ability for students to transfer between institutions must be allowed, according to the report, which recommends "forming comprehensive articulation agreements that clearly establish procedures governing the transfer of credits from one institution or system to another."
Perdue formed the working group with the charges of reviewing a national report called "Tough Times or Tough Choices" and coming up with a list of ideas on how Georgia might reform its education system.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, Perdue has directed the group to identify policy changes that can be put quickly in place with the goal of legislation passing on the matter in this year’s session of the General Assembly.
Newton County would be greatly affected by this proposal as the Newton GPC campus that opened in 2007 is both highly used by county students and viewed by economic development experts as a key engine for economic growth in the eastern end of the county.
GPC professors, faculty and students are already organizing opposition to the proposal. Beth Jensen, a distance-learning professor of English at GPC, is urging her students to contact the governor, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and their local representatives and senators to protest the proposal.
"We have confirmation that Governor Perdue can, at any time, issue a directive to finalize the absorption of the two-year college into the technical school system," Jensen said in an e-mail. "The legislators will be left to hammer out the details, but the deal will be done."
Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he first learned of the proposal on Thursday at a budget hearing.
"I think that we have a good system in place now and I would like to see it stay in place," Douglas said. "The technical colleges and the university system have different missions and I think that they both serve their base well and I don’t see the need to change it."
Jensen said the report seeks to unnecessarily duplicate the Transfer Admission Guaranty agreements already in place at GPC. Because GPC belongs to the University System of Georgia, all college-level courses transfer to any of the schools within the USG. TAG agreements at GPC allow students who maintain a certain GPA to transfer into more than 30 public and private four-year colleges and universities in and out of the state.
Jensen also objected to the lack of community college direct representation on the governor’s "Tough Times or Tough Choices" working group. The 23-member group includes representatives from the state’s four-year institutions, technical colleges, public schools, and the Georgia legislature and business community, but does not include a single representative from a community college.
"Whether the omission was intentional or not, the process is tainted," Jensen said of the lack of community college representation. "These revelations suggest that the decision to "merge" the two-year colleges with the tech schools may have been decided before the governor’s committee convened."
Jensen is suggesting an alternate proposal that would, rather than developing a two-tier system of the TACSG and USG as recommended by the report, transfer instead the tech colleges to the USG, creating one large system of higher education.
"The tech schools could function as one arm of the two-year institution without affecting the two-year college’s academic position within the USG," Jensen said. "If the tech schools became part of the USG, the academic status of the two-year colleges would remain intact, the transferability of credits would continue, and GPC’s successful TAG agreements would attract increasing number of students to the USG."
Jensen said she fears folding community colleges into the technical schools would decrease the two-year colleges’ academic standing, resulting in the elimination of academic programs that are necessary for the successful transfer to four-year colleges.
The two institutions have different missions which are not interchangeable she said. While the mission of community colleges is to prepare students for success at four-year colleges, the mission of technical schools is to prepare students for immediate entry into the workforce.
"The elimination of the two-year institution within the USG is detrimental to many Georgia families," she said. "For some student populations, the only point of access into the USG is the two-year college with its academic and remedial programs. The committee’s plan will leave many of these students in a no-man’s land."
State colleges and universities could see their own student enrollments adversely affected if the proposal is adopted Jensen said.
"Georgia’s two-year schools transfer approximately 50,000 students each year," she said. "Georgia Perimeter College alone transfers more students to George State University, to the University of Georgia, and to many other four-year institutions than any other two-year college in the system."