Georgia Regents OK tuition installment pay plan

AMERICUS, Ga. — A day after increasing the cost of going to college by as much as 6 percent, the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents voted Wednesday to test a way to let parents and students make payments in installments.

On Tuesday, the board increased tuition by 2.5 percent at most schools, and jumped it 5 percent at the University of Georgia and 6 percent at Georgia Tech.

Current policy requires a lump-sum payment for tuition, fees, meal plans, textbooks and other expenses. The board voted in January to experiment with installment payments on housing at six schools.

Wednesday’s decision sets up a test of installments for tuition and fees just at Georgia Tech. Students will have to pay half before classes start. An additional 25 percent is due one-quarter of the way into the semester, and the balance will be due at midterms. It will cost them $75 to participate.

Georgia Tech administrators asked to be the guinea pig because students there requested it. Students at six of the state’s 25 public colleges have arrangements with a private, tuition-finance company, Nelnet, which sets up a similar installment plan, but Nelnet’s $7,300 maximum won’t go far at Tech’s tuition level.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Rutledge Griffin, the chairman of the board’s Affordability Committee. “It has great potential for the whole system.”

Vice Chancellor John Brown said the one-year test would reveal any snags that can be removed before expanding to all of the schools.

“When we roll it out, we won’t have 35 different plans. We will have ‘the plan,’ ” he said.

Chancellor Hank Huckaby proposed the initiative after talking with students who complained about the expense of college. Another reason is to address the state’s graduation rate, a priority of Gov. Nathan Deal. Studies show that finances are one of the major reasons students drop out of college.

To find other ways to ease the financial burden, Deal started a needs-based scholarship program funded by contributions from corporations and schools such as Tech and UGA. He also persuaded the Legislature to create a low-interest loan program for students.

Still, the tuition increase comes at a time when the HOPE Scholarship covers less of students’ costs. At one time, it covered everything, but now it no longer includes fees or books.

Only the very best-performing students get all of their tuition covered. Most HOPE scholars still have to pay about one-quarter of their own tuition.

The average student can’t rely on any HOPE funding. Administrators believe the installment plan will provide at least some relief to maintain access to a diploma for students of all incomes.

“This month, we want to talk about something that doesn’t exactly lower costs, but it addresses access,” Brown said in introducing the proposal to the board.

The board held its two-day monthly meeting at Georgia Southwestern State University.

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