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Students voice opposition to potential tuition hike

By Greg Gelpi

With a potential tuition hike looming, students at Clayton College & State University are mounting efforts to let state officials know their opposition.

Members of Clayton State's Student Government Association have collected about 20 pages of signatures, more than a thousand names, of students against a potential tuition increase, Student Government Association President Gerald Heavens said.

"My point is to inform students on what is going on, not to take any particular position," Heavens said.

The University System Board of Regents will consider options next week to handle a $68.7 million shortfall. One option is to raise tuition at the state's colleges and universities in January.

There are a "number of items" being considered, including personnel layoffs, greater efficiency and tuition hikes, said John Millsaps, spokesman for the board of regents.

"At this point, I just don't know what the (Chancellor Thomas Meredith) will recommend," Millsaps said.

In a plan under consideration by the regents, the University System would increase tuition by 10 percent and eliminate 1,100 non-faculty jobs.

According to the Georgia Student Finance Commission, the state's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship will continue to fully fund tuition to state colleges and universities.

"I'm on HOPE as well, but I'm against anything that may harm the school, and a lot of students aren't on HOPE scholarships," said Clayton State junior Cee Howard. "Whether it's an increase of $100 or $200, it's a lot of money to a college student."

Junior Business Marketing major Laura Baker of Riverdale is on HOPE as well, but she agreed with Howard.

"We want to know why we're in the middle between the Board of Regents and the governor," Heavens said.

The University System is being asked to shoulder a much larger portion of the shortfall than other areas of the budget, he said.

"We don't understand the disproportionate percentages," Heavens said.

Although he can see both sides of the issue, he said the money just isn't there for both sides.

"The bottom line is we're being affected," Heavens said.

State Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, said she plans to attend the Board of Regents meeting to see how higher education will survive another round of budget cuts. She serves on the House Higher Education Committee.

"We've cut through the muscle," Buckner said. "We've cut down to the bone. There's absolutely no fat left."

Since November 2001, the University System's budget has been cut by $382 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.