Chancellor: Budget cuts push schools to limit

The University System of Georgia is getting closer to the breaking point at an increasing rate of speed, Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. said Friday.

He wouldn't say where that point is, but he said the economic reality is that budget cuts could lead to soaring tuition and ultimately a statewide cap on enrollment if state funding cuts continue.

Mr. Davis made the comments Friday during a meeting with The Augusta Chronicle and the presidents of Augusta State University and the Medical College of Georgia. He was in town visiting Augusta State as part of a regular tour of state campuses.

The chancellor said the university system has a shrinking budget and booming demand. In the past two years, the system added 23,000 students -- the equivalent of three Augusta States.

Budget cuts to other state agencies mean longer lines, shorter hours and taller grass, but cuts to higher education are different, Mr. Davis said.

"We are different from every state agency -- different, not better," he said. "It means you are flirting with the future ... If I can't hire the teachers, I can't teach the sections."

Augusta State President William A. Bloodworth Jr. said he is already experiencing that.

"It's crunch time for us," he said. "We are struggling to find the classes for students."

If classes are full, it takes longer for a student to graduate or the student drops out, he said.

Yet the chancellor has asked each college president to prepare for even more dire finances by submitting a list of 6 percent budget cuts by July 27.

To emphasize how significant that is, MCG President Daniel W. Rahn said a 10 percent cut would be "game-changing."

Mr. Davis said continued budget cuts will lead to capping the number of students allowed into certain programs, enrollment at entire institutions and eventually the total number of students in the state.

Capping enrollment and raising tuition limits access to higher education.

"I can't, naturally, say to the state 'Give me more,' " he said, noting that the university system accounts for about 12 percent of the state budget. "I don't mean to sound cataclysmic, but you undermine the democracy when you shrink the middle class."

Not on the table is any sort of delay of expanding Medical College of Georgia to Athens.

"We can't let the urgent get in the way of the important," Mr. Davis said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.