As expected, the Regents increased tuition today at Georgia’s public colleges and universities. At the same time that the Regents were voting, I was across downtown at a panel on college completion where affordability was cited as an impediment to students completing their degrees. There were 150 people in the audience, including business leaders, state school chief John Barge and Erin Hames, from the governor’s office.
“We are reaching limits in our states to keep education affordable,” said David Spence, president of the Southern Regional Education Board and panel moderator.
(One of the panelists was Rockdale Superintendent Samuel T. King, who told me afterward that he was not at liberty to confirm that he was a candidate for the Cobb school chief job. I take that as a “yes.” If he was not a candidate, King would have been free to say, “I am not a candidate.”)
Sponsored by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, the panel opened with Will Pinkston, a consultant and former senior advisor to the governor of Tennessee during that state’s successful bid for a Race to the Top grant.
Pinkston talked about the need to link college funding to outcomes of students rather than to enrollments. He and other speakers urged greater efficiency in higher education, which has not historically worried about whether students graduate.
In fact, panelist C. Dean Alford, a former state school board member and chairman of the Technical College System of Georgia’s board of directors, talked about dealing with that issue at his own alma mater, Georgia Tech. He said Tech is trying to develop an attitude among its faculty that the goal is not to weed out students but to help all students stay at Tech and graduate.
The state pays a high price when students in state institutions do not complete college, said Alford. In 2009, he said Georgia spent $254 million on students who did not return to college after their first year.
While the amounts of these tuition increases are small, panelist Lynne Weisenbach, a vice chancellor with the Board of Regents, told the audience that only 25 percent of public college students fall into the traditional mold of fresh-faced 18-year-olds attending college right out of high school. The other 75 percent are juggling jobs and families, not living in dorms, going to football games or pledging fraternities and sororities.
I think it is these nontraditional students who will be most affected by these increases.
Starting in the fall the financially troubled HOPE scholarship will cover all tuition for only the most accomplished students, about 10 percent of recipients. For the rest the award will equal 90 percent of current rates and will not cover tuition increases.
The 3 percent tuition increase means HOPE will cover 87.4 percent of that cost, Ramachandran said. About 30 percent of the 311,000 students in the University System of Georgia receive the scholarship.
The increase ranges from $36 a semester at two-year colleges to $106 a semester at research institutions, such as University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University.
The increase would be one of the smallest for the system. Tuition rose by as much as 16 percent at some colleges this year and jumped by 25 percent during the 2009-10 academic year.
But students will still have a large out-of-pocket expense because of an increase in a special fee created two years ago in response to state budget cuts.
Students attending 29 of the 35 University System colleges will pay an extra $100 a semester. Those attending Georgia Gwinnett College and the College of Coastal Georgia will pay $150 more a semester.
Students at UGA, Georgia State and Georgia Health Sciences University will pay an additional $250 a semester, while those enrolled at Tech will pay an extra $350 a semester. Tech’s increase is more because it enrolls fewer students than the other research institutions, Ramachandran said.
The regents created the special fee in January 2009, charging $50 to $100 a semester, depending on the campus. The fee doubled the following year.
Ramachandran said the fee increase kept the raise in tuition low. Without it, tuition would jump by about 12 percent, she said.
She said all students will pay the fee, but not everyone will pay higher tuition. About 45,000 students are exempt from tuition increases because they were grandfathered into a program that guaranteed the same rates for four years.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog