ATLANTA - As the state Board of Regents consider a midyear tuition increase, one group's report shows that education appropriations in Georgia and other states have increased though college is less affordable.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, overall appropriations on Georgia higher education inched up about 1.8 percent this fiscal year over the previous year. The state's fiscal years begin July 1.
Those numbers - showing an average increase of 3.5 in higher education funding in 46 states - were released with "Measuring Up 2004," a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
The report might not include a $69 million cut ordered by Gov. Sonny Perdue when he decided not to use an accounting gimmick that would have postponed some payroll expenses. That decision is why university system officials say they need a tuition increase.
Nevertheless, the report said that as of last year, colleges were becoming less affordable across the nation.
Mikyung Ryu, a senior policy analyst with the center, said affordability and the level of state support for higher education were closely tied. She pointed out that a rising tide of tuition increases across the nation was related to a nationwide budget crunch.
"In one sense, that trend is triggered by the budget cuts for higher education," Ms. Ryu said.
But she also pointed out that raising funding doesn't always prevent tuition increases; generally, tuition grows more slowly or remains stable.
"They may freeze tuition. That's the best bet you can get," Ms. Ryu said.
Georgia budget figures show that spending on the operating budget for the state's university system declined from almost $1.67 billion to a little more than $1.65 billion. But the state also provided millions of dollars for bond financing and earmarked construction projects for the university system.
By another measure, colleges and universities also have had to do with less.
Thirty years ago, they received as much as 16.5 percent of the state budget, but they now get slightly less than 11 percent, according to the system.
Rising health care costs have claimed the difference, observers say.
At the same time, state allocations on a per-student basis have slumped dramatically as enrollment in Georgia schools has risen, an unusual trend for most states.
Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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