ATLANTA --- State officials have their choice of two messages from student groups that converged on the Capitol on Monday to protest possible cuts to higher education.
One group, wearing business suits and speaking in soft tones, called for a modest rise in tuition and small cuts in spending to help address the state's budget shortfall.
"There's going to be cuts. We're in a declining economy. We recognize that," said nursing student Lindsay McLear, the president of the student body at the Medical College of Georgia. "We want to make sure that the cuts are proportionate."
One place to economize, the Athens native said, could be MCG's expansion, which has campuses in her hometown in addition to Albany and Savannah.
"Maybe putting off the program for a year would help save funds," she said.
The other group, calling themselves Georgia Students for Public Higher Education, included about 500 students clad in jeans and chanting into bullhorns and holding homemade signs with slogans such as "raise hell, not tuition." They opposed any tuition increases or cuts to academic programs, calling instead for an increase in income taxes for those earning more than $400,000.
"Raising taxes is better in some respects," said Stuy Lewis, a student at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah. "If we raise taxes, then everybody pays -- people who are going to school and people who are not going to school. The goal would be to get as many people a higher education as we possibly can."
The groups did agree in their opposition to cuts to academic programs, increases in student fees and their support of a $1-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes.
McLear and the other suit-wearing students, the heads of the student governments at about half the 35 public colleges in Georgia, met with House Speaker David Ralston and aides to Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Legislators were in recess Monday and Perdue was in Washington, so the students' only way of delivering their message was through the many reporters present and a petition organizers say had 30,000 signatures.