A week ago, we sat down with UGA president Michael Adams who was concerned about the ongoing hits to higher education in the state budget. His main concern was losing good faculty members to competing schools because of an inability to come up with counter offers. (He said some interesting things about the disparity in high school quality in the state, but I will write that up later.)
But his boss was at the Legislature today with even more dire warnings: It would take a 77 percent tuition increase at Georgia’s colleges and universities to meet the demand for a $385 million cut in the state’s higher education system budget, said Chancellor Erroll Davis.
That was not what lawmakers wanted to hear. They did not want Davis to tell them that the system could not sustain many more cuts or find any real money outside of raising tuition through the roof. “We are in a budget crisis,” state Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland) told him. “We have got to cut another $200 to $300 million out of your budget. Please, prioritize where those cuts will come or we will do it blindly.”
Lawmakers threw out ideas for how the system could save money, but those cuts would not produce nearly enough in savings. For example, state Rep. Bob Lane (R-Statesboro) asked how much a 1 percent salary cut would save the system. Davis couldn’t answer, but my AJC colleagues checked and found out that a 1 percent cut to the systems’ teaching budget, the overwhelming majority of which goes to salaries, would save $19 million.
It seems the writing is on the wall for a tuition hike. In our visit, Adams noted that Georgia still is considered a great deal in public college tuition, and there is a fair argument for raising it.
A tuition hike at UGA is really a new burden on lottery dollars since so many Athens students are HOPE Scholarship recipients. The lottery folks already have warned of problems meeting demand, so that seems to point to a collision course between supply and demand.
Not sure how this is going to end, but I would suggest that college students start giving up those weekly Starbucks double shots and the iTune purchases. A tuition hike seems apparent unless lawmakers consider raising taxes or “fees” on something somewhere. (I still vote for the cigarette tax.)
Are you ready?