Regents set to add student fee

ATLANTA --- Regents are set to approve a plan today that would increase student fees and force employees to pay more for health insurance as Georgia's budget crisis deepens.

The proposal would place a fee of $50 a semester on students at two-year and four-year colleges, $75 at most four-year universities and $100 at the state's four research institutions -- the University of Georgia, the Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State. It also calls for University System of Georgia employees to pay for 30 percent of the cost of their health care plans, up from 25 percent.

Both changes would take effect Jan. 1. Employees would be allowed a new open enrollment period to change their coverage.

Regents approved the outline of the plan in August as a way to deal with budget cuts if they climbed as high as 8 percent. With state tax revenue figures still bleak, most economists and observers expect the cuts to reach at least 8 percent and potentially 10 percent or more.

"The priority has clearly been that if we go to a higher level of cuts, we're trying as much as possible now to protect that core instruction mission," said John Millsaps, a spokesman for the university system. "So the only way to do that at this point ... is to take action that doesn't really directly impact that classroom."

Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Seth Harp, R-Midland, said the changes likely won't be enough to balance the system's budget.

"If our budget projections hold true, we're going to have a shortfall ... so there's going to have to be a lot more things happening," Mr. Harp said.

While some universities might consider layoffs, Augusta State hasn't reached that point, President William A. Bloodworth Jr. said Tuesday. But the university is making other adjustments to offset an 8 percent cut in state funding.

ASU had planned to add positions to meet the needs of its growing student body, Dr. Bloodworth said. Instead, the university has $1.5 million in positions unfilled. Teaching positions that are being filled are often being filled with part-time professors, something he says ASU can't afford to do permanently.

The university is also cleaning its offices half as often, he said.

Staff Writer Greg Gelpi contributed to this report.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (678) 977-3709 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.

WHAT THE FEE DOES

The fee allows the regents to increase the amount students have to pay for an education without breaking the "Fixed for Four" tuition guarantee the system offers most students. The increase won't be covered by the HOPE Scholarship's fee allowance, capped by the Legislature in 2004.

PER-SEMESTER FEE
INSTITUTION
Two-year college$50
Four-year college$50
Four-year university$75
Research institutions*$100

* University of Georgia, Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State

WHAT'S NEXT: The regents will vote today on the plan; if approved, the changes will take effect Jan. 1.

-- Morris News Service