By Johnny Jackson
Beginning in January, many of the state's college students will have to pay more for their education to help offset state budget cuts. Also, state employees will have to pay higher insurance premiums.
State officials expect to increase certain tuitions, and implement a one-time fee, in order to reduce their budgets and stave off the impact of the economic recession.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia anticipates saving about $40 million by passing some of its budgetary costs along to its state employees and students. The University System - which cut its budget by 6 percent ($136 million) in August to help the state offset its $1.6 billion shortfall in revenue - is attempting to cut an additional 2 percent from its budget in anticipation of potential shortfalls in the spring.
In a special called meeting last week, the board also approved a measure to change its employees' health benefit plans. Plus, it plans to institute an additional, temporary fee for students within the university system.
The changes will help the system's 35 colleges and universities meet an additional 2 percent reduction in this year's fiscal budget, said John Millsaps, spokesman for the Board of Regents.
"The philosophy we've used on this is that we have to protect the academic quality in the classroom," Millsaps said. "We are asking people to sacrifice, but the alternative is [to negatively] impact the quality of education that we offer."
The Board of Regents' decision effectively adds an expenditure to frequent increases in school tuition for Georgia's college students, who still have some of the lowest tuition costs in the Southeast region.
In-state tuition for full-time students at Clayton State University, for instance, is $1,549. Tuition was $1,434 per semester, during the 2007-08 academic year.
In addition to typical tuition costs, students under the University System will have to pay a temporary, one-semester fee. The fee will be $100 at four of the system's research universities and six of its comprehensive universities; the fee will be $75 at its remaining comprehensive universities, and $50 for its two-year and state colleges.
"It's to help the institutions meet an additional reduction in their budgets," Millsaps said. Proceeds from the fees will stay at the schools from which they are collected. Those proceeds will be placed in each school's operations budget to be used at the school's discretion.
"These are difficult decisions," said Erroll Davis, Jr., Chancellor of the University System of Georgia. "The board's action today will protect the system's core teaching mission and maintain academic quality."
The Board of Regents will also make budget cuts that will affect employees.
As of Jan. 1, 2009, the employer contribution rate for health insurance for the system's PPO and HMO health plans will be reduced from 75 percent to 70 percent.
"Essentially, we're asking employees to pick up an additional 5 percent of the health care costs," said Davis.
As a result, employees enrolled in the plans will pay increased premiums ranging from about $17 to $65 each month, depending on the plan and number of individuals covered on the plans.
Students in Georgia's technical colleges have also been impacted by state budget cuts.
The state board of the Technical College System of Georgia recently voted to raise its tuition cap at the state's technical colleges, from 12 to 15 hours, in order to generate an extra $10 million each year in revenue.
Currently, full-time technical college students pay an average of $432 for 12 credit hours and are not charged for additional credit hours. Now, those taking between 13 and 15 credit hours will have to pay $108 more for tuition. Officials say the move will only affect about a third of the state's technical college students, as two-thirds of its students typically take 12 credit hours or less each quarter. The extra cost for many of those who take more credit hours may be covered by the state's HOPE grant.
State officials estimate that some 10 percent of the Technical College System's quarterly enrollment (about 9,000 students) will have to pay the extra tuition cost out-of-pocket. The increase will take effect beginning with the winter quarter of 2009.
The board also voted last week to reaffirm the system's plan to merge the administrations of 13 of the state's 33 state technical colleges. On July 1, 2009, the 13 colleges will become six.
"The administrative mergers mean more efficient use of college resources, greater cost-effectiveness in how we administer the campuses, and improved opportunities for our first priority, which is always our students," said Technical College System Board Chairman Carl Swearingen. "This transformation is vitally important if we are to build the strong and talented workforce that Georgia needs to compete in the 21st Century global economy."
The board's vote follows a decision made during its November meeting to examine the merger concerns that were raised by a state legislator. The mergers will include Griffin Tech and Flint River Tech. Others will be Appalachian Tech, Chattahoochee Tech and North Metro Tech; Coosa Valley Tech and Northwestern Tech; East Central Tech and Valdosta Tech; Southeastern Tech and Swainsboro Tech; and West Central Tech and West Georgia Tech.
New names for the merged colleges are still to be determined by the combined colleges' boards of directors.