Fixed for Four might not last

ATLANTA --- Deeper budget cuts could drive up the cost of a college degree in Georgia and force the Board of Regents to drop its highly touted program giving students a fixed tuition rate for four years, officials said Wednesday.

Chancellor Erroll Davis told regents that the "Fixed for Four" program, which he and Gov. Sonny Perdue announced 21/2 years ago, was built on the assumption that lawmakers would follow the formula used to decide how much money the system should receive.

"If we do not get full formula funding, then obviously we're going to have to look at our ability, for any particular cohort, to maintain fixed tuition," Mr. Davis said.

He later said that option would apply only to students enrolling in the future and would likely be considered only if budget cuts go beyond the current 6 percent. Mr. Perdue has asked agencies to prepare plans for cuts of 6 percent, 8 percent and 10 percent.

At least one college president suggested the Fixed for Four program might have been a mistake in the first place.

"I think Fixed for Four, while it's a very nice political concept, is not an economically viable concept," said outgoing Georgia State University President Carl Patton. "Our electricity is not fixed for four. Our water is not fixed for four."

A budget approved Wednesday by the regents didn't include a change to the current tuition structure. But the proposal does call for potential layoffs, increased health care premiums for employees and a possible $50-$100 per semester fee on all students.

The most severe measures, including the new fee, would be used only under the bleaker budget scenarios, officials said.

The fee would be temporary, according to Mr. Davis, but could be replaced by a future tuition increase. It would not be covered by the HOPE Scholarship's fee allowance.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at brandon.larrabee@morris.com.