They're not saying if or when it may happen. But higher education officials in Georgia fear education rationing may be in the future.
The problem: Demand for college is skyrocketing with a still-growing population and the lottery-funded HOPE scholarships that help pay for A and B students. The state's colleges and universities serve 283,000 students -- an increase of 23,000 over two years.
But with the economic crisis, available state funds are shrinking at the same time the burden is growing.
At some point -- they can't say exactly when -- something's got to give.
At that point, Georgia may have to place caps on enrollment -- perhaps in a program, a school or a university at a time.
The alternative is to weed out by income -- i.e., increase tuition until poorer families can't send their kids to college. No one wants that.
Instead, if the state needs to get more selective, it needs to be totally merit-based in its criteria; i.e., the smarter students.
Even so, more students means more demand for teachers that colleges can't afford to hire.
That means fewer classes available, and that means it will take longer for students to graduate.
The effect of all this is rather frightening. Higher education, which feeds the jobs of tomorrow, is not just an expense: It's an investment in our future. Cutting that investment now reduces output six years into the future.
And, especially at research institutions -- which bring in multimillion-dollar grants -- colleges and universities can pump as much money into the economy as we pump into them.
University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. says the state's 35 degree-granting institutions have a $12 billion economic impact.
That's compared to the state's overall $18.6 billion budget.
If state revenues continue to slide, of course, there's not much legislators can do. But they should keep in mind that cuts to higher education are going to hurt the state much more in the long term than cuts to just about anything else.
That's not very smart at all.