In a historic step, the state Board of Regents Tuesday approved merging some colleges to drop the system from 35 institutions to 31.
Leaders have discussed merging campuses for decades, but it never went anywhere until now. Chancellor Hank Huckaby said current economic realities mean the University System can't operate as it always has. The state has cut the system's funding by about $1 billion over the past four years because of the recession, while enrollment has increased by about 40,000 students.
Consolidating eight colleges into four will allow the system to reduce administrative costs. That could save taxpayers millions annually, but Huckaby said it's too soon to say how much. Any savings will be funneled into academic programs so that students in smaller communities will have access to more courses and quality degree programs, he said.
"The easy path would have been to continue down the road that we're on," Regents Chairman Ben Tarbutton said after the vote.