Board of Regents avoids tuition hikes

By Greg Gelpi

Pulling funding from other sources, the University System Board of Regents avoided raising college tuition on Tuesday.

Chancellor Thomas Meredith had considered a 10 percent tuition hike that would have been implemented in January. The Board of Regents unanimously accepted Meredith's proposal that avoided the tuition increase.

Rather than increasing tuition, the Board of Regents opted to pull money from three different "one-time" sources. In addition, $20.3 million will be taken from continuing reductions to the system's operating budget.

Tuition increases were considered to counter a $68.7 million shortfall, the University System's share of a $179.3 million statewide shortfall.

"I'm actually impressed with the fact they did find another option," Clayton College & State University student Wyatt Lowe of McDonough said. "If (the economy) doesn't find some way to rebound in the next 5 - 10 years, the system is going to hurt even more."

Even without a tuition increase, Ben Hopkins, a Clayton State student from Morrow, said it's only a matter of time before tuition is increased.

"I'm happy that he didn't raise tuition because I'm not on HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally Scholarship)," Hopkins said. "I fully expect them to raise tuition at some point."

Hopkins, like many students at Clayton State, is a nontraditional student, working full time during the day and attending class at night.

An increase in tuition would lead to more students taking out loans, he said, but that is "just part of Americana."

Clayton State students were among 3,500 other students in the University System who signed a petition and rallied against potential tuition hikes.

"This is a mixture of both good news and bad news," Meredith stated in a press release. "On the one hand, we feel quite positive about mitigating the immediate financial impact a mid-year tuition increase would have had on our students. Still, we know the one-time cost cutting solutions we have identified are frankly stop-gap measures that only temporarily solve our problems. We will have to find these dollars from other sources for our (Fiscal Year) 2006 budget."

Almost $28 million, the largest portion of the cuts, will be taken from the University System's employee health-plan reserves ? reducing the fund from a recommended 60-day reserve to a 30-day level.

The $20.3 million in reductions to the system's operating budget will be spread among all of the system's institutions. The Clayton State share of the cut will be determined later this month, Board of Regents spokesman John Millsaps said.

How those cuts are implements will be determined individually by each university president, Millsaps said. The cuts will include position eliminations, hiring freezes, delayed business purchasing, deferred maintenance, reduced operating hours and by hiring more part-time rather than full-time faculty to meet instructional demands.

"Another $9.4 million will be generated by utilizing the matching-funds reserve previously set aside to construct the Merial research facility at the University of Georgia n a project that has been scrapped due to a change in plans by the private-sector entity that initially sought the cooperative venture with the state," the Board of Regents reported. "Efforts are under way to identify another $7 million in additional cuts."

Clayton State President Thomas Harden was unavailable for comment. Harden was en route to Hungary, representing the university with a delegation of university students and officials at the Liszt Academy in Budapest.

However, Sharon Hoffman, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, said, "Even without a tuition increase, the actions that are taken will impact our students in other ways."

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