Ga. university chief: Expect tuition increase

ATLANTA — The head of Georgia’s university system predicted tuition increases Tuesday after Gov. Nathan Deal said his budget would mean spending cuts of 7 percent for the average state agency.

Chancellor Erroll Davis estimated that tuition would have to climb 30 percent to replace all of the lost money.

“That’s not going to happen. We will not let that happen,” he said, acknowledging that that would put college out of reach for many. Still, tuition is certain to rise to make up some of the gap, he said.

The governor and chancellor spoke Tuesday during the first day of joint budget hearings by the House and Senate appropriations committees.

Deal said the biggest challenge will be doing without nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus money that expires at the end of the fiscal year.

Lawmakers listened to hours of presentations during the day, and their most critical questions were on how the university system could trim costs at the state’s 35 public colleges.

They asked Davis why the Uni­versity of Georgia is spending up to $4 million to start an engineering school, and why the Medical College of Georgia was spending $3 million to change its name next month to Georgia Health Sciences University.

Davis said both decisions were made by the individual college presidents, who must accomplish the changes without more money than what they were already allocated.

“Even I, with my feeble financial skills, could probably carve $3 (million) to $4 million out of a billion-dollar-plus budget,” he said. “I don’t know exactly where it will be carved out of or what programs will be impacted. That is up to the president of the institution.”

MCG already had agreed to spend $2 million on new signs as part of Augusta’s efforts to market the city as a “medical destination” to attract out-of-town patients, and UGA had five engineering programs with the necessary facilities to start the school, he said.

Lawmakers registered complaints about the steady rise in tuition and fees, which many of them are paying for their children. Davis acknowledged that both had risen as the university system tried to compensate for the 33 percent drop in per-student funding in the past three years.

In that time, enrollment has grown equal to the student body at UGA while the system’s spending has shrunk from $2.3 billion to $1.74 billion.

“It costs a lot more to educate while preserving excellence and quality,” he said.

The cuts to the University Sys­tem of Georgia will be 9 percent. That’s $177 million below the per-student formula, Davis said.
State school Superintendent John Barge faced lawmakers for the first time since his election last fall. He spoke briefly and turned over the technical presentation to an assistant.

Last week, Barge told reporters, “In the education field, we expected the budget to be worse. Gov. Deal took great care to prevent deeper cuts than what we even anticipated.”

Deal is recommending pumping $30 million into the Depart­ment of Education’s budget, but that is roughly equal to what is needed to cover teachers’ step pay increases, which are tied to their education and experience. At the same time, Deal is calling for withholding the $50 million that would be needed in the per-pupil funding formula to cover the increased K-12 enrollment.

Deal said there would be no teacher furloughs in his budget, but that’s because state officials had instructed local districts to not spend federal job-protection money they got in the fall, lawmakers were told Tuesday. They were warned to hold on to that money to cushion the blow of the expected cuts.

The Technical College System of Georgia also has seen its enrollment swell as laid-off workers seek training. The system took on 19,000 students older than 40 in the past year as it grappled with budget cuts.

The system consolidated colleges, shifted to mostly part-time instructors, eliminated 348 degree programs and lowered its average cost per student, Ron Jackson, the commissioner of the technical college system, told lawmakers.

He warned that those economies would be hard to duplicate if the system doesn’t soon get full funding according to its the per-pupil formula written into law.

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