By Dorie Turner
ATLANTA - Georgia college students will pay up to $1,000 more in tuition in the coming school year under hikes passed by the state Board of Regents on Tuesday, a move that comes amid one of the worst state fiscal crises in recent history.
The tuition increases for the state's 35 public colleges and universities hit hardest at research universities: Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. Many students will pay $3,535 per semester, a 16 percent increase over last fall.
For students at other campuses like Georgia Southern University, University of West Georgia and Kennesaw State University, tuition will be $2,137 per semester, up $300 from last fall, or 15 percent. For students at two-year colleges, the increase is $50, or about 4 percent, making tuition $1,199 per semester.
The tuition increases come after lawmakers cut $227 million from higher education spending to help balance the books as the state's economy limps along. The tuition hikes are expected to raise about $80 million.
"Over the last few years, we have had an economic tsunami like none of us has ever experienced," Usha Ramachandran, vice chancellor for fiscal affairs at the University System of Georgia, told the board.
The largest increases apply to entering freshmen, rising sophomores and fifth-year seniors, who are not under the "Fixed for Four" guaranteed tuition program. The program, which promises that students will pay the same tuition rate for four years, was suspended indefinitely for new students starting last fall to help generate more money as colleges struggle with finances.
Students who are still under the fixed tuition program - rising juniors and fourth-year seniors - will pay the same amount they did when they entered as freshmen.
The tuition rates do not include the price of mandatory fees, books and housing for students, which can cost thousands more per year.
"I am utterly appalled," rising Georgia State University junior Jesus Pulido said after the board vote. "It's extremely unfair."
State funding for colleges and universities has been declining over the last few years, with per-student funding falling from $8,191 in 2009 to $6,242 next year, about the same level it was in 1996. The difference has been made up with program cuts, layoffs, furlough days and tuition increases.
Chancellor Erroll Davis said he won't have a clear picture of how state cuts will affect each campus until next month because the university system office just received final budget figures last week. Campuses are bracing for more staff layoffs and furloughs and further program reductions to cope with dwindling state funding.
Gov. Sonny Perdue visited the meeting on Tuesday, but said little about the budget cuts that have left colleges scrambling to handle steadily increasing enrollment.
"It's my opportunity to say thank you for continuing to make this university system not one of the best, but the best in the nation," Perdue said.