ATLANTA — Legislators concerned about rising college costs heard the University System chancellor say Tuesday he’ll take a hard stance on requests for higher tuition and fees while the technical colleges consider closing satellite campuses.
Chancellor Hank Huckaby told a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees he doesn’t yet know how much the Board of Regents will raise tuition this spring but that he would be trying to keep it small. University presidents will soon submit their requests for more money. Then, the regents figure out how much to raise tuition once the General Assembly passes its appropriations for next year.
“We’re going to take a much harder look than we have before,” said Huckaby, a former Republican legislator.
He said he would also be skeptical about college presidents seeking hikes in the various fees that students pay on top of their tuition.
“If you’re going to ask for fee increases, you better make a heck of an argument for it,” he said. “We’re going to slow that train down.”
Officials at some of Georgia’s 35 public colleges have told him that as many as 500 students who register for classes each semester drop out when it’s time to pay the tuition, Huckaby said.
In response, regents Chairman Ben Tarbutton has created a committee to search for ways to keep college affordable.
One of the most dramatic cost-cutting moves recently was the consolidation of schools. The University System approved the merger of eight schools into four last week, including Waycross College with South Georgia College and Augusta State University with Georgia Health Sciences University, partly to save money, according to finance director John Brown. But he said those savings will not show up in the next fiscal year that the legislators are considering this week.
He also declined to estimate how much those savings might be.
“I don’t know, and I won’t know for a while,” said Brown, the former director of the Senate Budget Office. “I’m asking for your patience as we work through this.”
The Technical College System of Georgia is also taking major steps to cope with its tight budget.
“We are considering closing under-utilized campuses at this point,” Commissioner Ron Jackson told the lawmakers.
There are 14 satellite campuses under consideration because they have fewer than 200 students. Jackson said they won’t all be closed because many have effective programs, such as adult literacy, that perform a public service.
At the same time, cost-cutting measures already in place are causing new challenges. Most of the technical colleges have hired part-time instructors to save on wages and benefits, but a recent review by an accreditation commission objected to having 71 percent of the teachers be part-timers at Lanier Technical College.
“That won’t pass muster,” Jackson said.
Lanier Tech had to scramble for extra funds to hire eight full-time faculty. Other tech schools are likely to get the same reaction when they’re due for re-accreditation, he warned.