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, Chancellor Erroll Davis said Wednesday.
Davis, speaking before a sometimes testy joint House-Senate budget committee, said that would raise tuition at the research universities to more than $10,000 a year, while four-year colleges would raise to more than $6,700 and two-year college tuition would grow to more than $4,000.
But it took some time for Davis to get to that point. Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland) interrupted Davis as the chancellor was explaining how dire the university system’s financial situation is.
“We are in a budget crisis,” Harp said. “I fully appreciate what you have offered. We are familiar with this. 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.”
But Davis did not bring suggested cuts, arguing instead that the university system has already cut $360 million since July 1, 2008. Davis said he has not yet had a chance to speak to all 35 college presidents to discuss specific cuts, although he promised to provide lawmakers with ideas by Friday. Cuts will have to come from individual schools, he said, as there are few system-wide programs at the regents’ office that can be eliminated.
But Davis said he does not believe it is possible to cut $385 million from the system. That, he said, would total the entire budget for 23 universities. But, Davis said the University System has made necessary cuts in the past and would do so again.
Still, Davis could not immediately answer some questions, such as when Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton) asked how many employees of the system have total compensation packages of more than $500,000. A quick check of state salary data at opengeorgia.gov, however, shows a handful of university system employees making that much, including Davis himself and UGA President Michael Adams.
Nor could Davis answer Rep. Bob Lane (R-Statesboro), who asked how much a 1 percent salary cut would save the system. A quick check of the 2010 state budget however, shows that a 1 percent cut to the systems’ teaching budget, the overwhelming majority of which goes to salaries, would save $19 million. A Regents spokesman later said a 1 percent cut to all University System employees would save $10.4 million.
Any tuition increase would effect out-of-state students as well as those paying the lower in-state cost. Students from other states pay four times the in-state tuition rate in Georgia.
Harp said everything is on the table: Big tuition cuts, salary cuts, closing or consolidating schools.
“We are now where the state of Georgia does not have enough money to complete this fiscal year,” Harp said. “Please, we need definitive ideas, suggestions where to come up with that money by Friday. I hope you can do that. If you can’t, you put it on the folks of this committee to do it. And we do not know the best way.”
If tuition has to raise by 77 percent, “so be it,” Harp said. “If we have to break the promise of locking in tuition, we have to break the promise. It’s not something we wanted but I cannot emphasize enough we do not have the money.”
There were mixed feelings on the committee about tuition increases, however. Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) said students and parents are the only ones who can pay.
“We’re becoming a socialist society when we say that you shouldn’t raise tuition at all,” Balfour said, adding that his son attends college in Georgia and that tuition “is embarrassingly cheap.”
“I don’t want a commitment from you you’re not going to raise tuition,” Balfour said. “I’d rather have a commitment from you that you are. The only group of people who can pay is the people taking the course.”
But Rep. Bill Hembree (R-Winston) said tuition increases cannot happen without the university system doing everything in its power to first reduce spending.
“We all know there are inefficiencies, excessive costs,” Hembree said. “If we walk away from this session without having cut somewhere in this system … then we have failed. If you go back and raise tuition, I for one will not stand for it.”
Hembree said a “modest” tuition increase might be acceptable if it’s accompanied by significant cuts.
Davis didn’t disagree that some savings can be found. And they will find it, he said.
“While I am here to agree there are room for improvements, I’m not able to say there are efficiencies that equal the total budgets of 23 of our 35 institutions,” he said.