A decline in enrollment and the increasing cost of offering modern programs have created a financial crunch statewide, said Mike Light, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education.
Because the state's 34 tech schools are funded based on their enrollments, the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year has them getting about $7 million less than this year. That could lead to the loss of four positions, on average, for every technical college.
But layoffs are a "worst-case scenario," Mr. Light said, and one not likely to be seen locally, according to Augusta Technical College President Terry Elam.
"There will be an effect on all of us, but at this point I don't foresee layoffs," he said.
While most technical colleges have experienced a two-year slide in enrollment, Mr. Elam said Augusta Tech has managed to increase its enrollment by 26.8 percent since 2001.
The college peaked at 7,080 students in 2005 before falling back to 6,928 in 2006, the president said. But that was the only decline in the six-year period.
Mr. Elam said he has no control over how much money the state gives Augusta Tech, but he does have some control over enrollment. To counter state cuts, his strategy will be to increase enrollment.
The college has focused on student retention and created programs students want and local businesses need. Some of the hotter programs are customer service and health care, Mr. Elam said.
But the state budget cuts haven't been finalized, Mr. Light said, and state lawmakers recognize that technical colleges are an investment in the state's future.
If cuts are made, it wouldn't be the first time.
Mr. Elam said he never expects to receive 100 percent funding because there are almost always cuts. "It's really become a part of our culture," he said.
The statewide decline in enrollment comes after more than 20 years of growth. In the early 1980s, about 12,000 students were enrolled in tech schools, but that had swelled to 97,000 students by 2003.
Officials blame the decline on the dot-com bubble's burst.
Also, a cap on the number of credits students can use through the HOPE scholarship is linked to a decline in the number of high school students taking dual-enrollment courses at tech college campuses.
Associated Press reports were used in this article.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strong enrollment might help Augusta Technical College avoid layoffs.
Source: Augusta Technical College