ATLANTA - The budget remains tight, but the University System of Georgia managed to move ahead anyway, Chancellor Tom Meredith said in his annual State of the System address Wednesday.
Mr. Meredith spoke on the need to increase tuition, keep improving graduation rates and follow through with strategic plans and initiatives. But he kept coming back to the budget.
"Since 2001, we have lost $378.2 million in cuts," Mr. Meredith said. "Today our budget is less than it was in fiscal year 2001. Nevertheless, we have successfully met the challenge of serving more than 44,000 new students."
Echoing statements University of Georgia President Michael Adams made in his state of the university speech, Mr. Meredith told the state Board of Regents Wednesday that tuition must increase to support quality education in Georgia's public colleges and universities. A task force has already formed to study creative ways of assessing tuition, Mr. Meredith said after his speech.
The task force will examine things like whether schools should charge more for junior- and senior-level classes, which cost more to teach than freshman- and sophomore-level courses. And, he said, the task force will look at whether certain areas of study should have different tuition levels or whether in-demand times should cost more than courses at 8 a.m. or 5 p.m.
Mr. Meredith said he didn't know what would come out of the task force - and that it may find differential tuition too unwieldy - but he hopes to get a final report by April. In his speech, Mr. Meredith addressed the problem of rapidly increasing textbook costs, and announced forums on the subject in Athens, Atlanta and Statesboro.
The UGA forum is scheduled for Feb. 17, though no time or location was announced; the Atlanta meeting is set for Feb. 14 at Georgia State University; and the Statesboro meeting will be Feb. 16 at Georgia Southern University.
The budget will continue to be tight, Mr. Meredith said, and the university system will continue to be forced to "focus on what's most important."
"I've frequently said that it's easy to please everyone when resources are plentiful. But things are much tougher when hard choices have to be made. And this board and our presidents have made many hard choices over the past three years," he said.
Regardless, he said, the system has grown and will continue to grow. The University System of Georgia reported a record fall enrollment of 250,659 students. The average SAT score for incoming freshmen this fall was 1,042, a six-point increase from 2003.
Retention rates for first-year students, six-year graduation rates and research funding have all increased as well.
"Without question, in the University System of Georgia, Georgians have this country's finest system of public higher education," he said.
"We are simply in the process of proving it."
Mr. Meredith's annual address was originally scheduled for the regents' January meeting, but was rescheduled because Mr. Meredith was still recovering from injuries he suffered in a November car wreck in South Carolina.