It just got tougher for Georgia’s students to afford college. Last week the Board of Regents of the state’s university system raised tuition for fall 2013. The tuition hikes range from a high of 7 percent at Georgia Tech to 2.5 percent at state universities. Students at the state’s flagship, the University of Georgia, will see their tuition jump 5 percent between the current school year and next. Being a member of Bulldog Nation isn’t cheap.
These increases follow years of tuition hikes. Students entering Georgia Tech this fall will pay 70 percent more than those who entered in fall 2008 and at UGA entering students will pay 65 percent more. While increases are greatest at these two schools, tuition has gone up about 50 percent or more over the last five years at regional and state universities. Since 2003 tuition has more than doubled at every four-year university in the system.
Many students and their families can’t afford these tuition increases. Median household income in Georgia fell between 2008 and 2011, the most recent year available. The combination of rising tuition and falling income means tuition consumes a larger portion of families’ financial resources. In 2003, tuition and fees at Georgia Tech or UGA amounted to 5 percent of the typical family’s income. By 2011 that number climbed to 9 percent for families with a student at Georgia Tech and 10 percent for those with a student at UGA.
At the same time the HOPE scholarship, the state’s largest financial aid program, has been shrinking. The scholarship covers far less now than in past years: only a portion of tuition instead of the full amount and nothing anymore for books or mandatory fees, which have soared. And there is no statewide need-based financial aid initiative that could help middle-class and low-income families replace the missing HOPE dollars.
The escalating cost of higher education in Georgia is the result of deep cuts in state support amounting to over $1 billion since 2009. Belt-tightening measures like increasing class size and using more part-time instructors can’t offset budget cuts of this magnitude. University system leaders have been pushed to raise tuition, relying on students and their families to cover costs.
The Legislature’s decision to make such deep cuts to higher education is short-sighted. It will very likely deter many students from enrolling in a college or university or lead them to drop out. This hurts all Georgians, for the state’s economic future depends on having an educated and skilled workforce. If college enrollment and completion rates don’t improve significantly, the state won’t have the workers that employers need. The likely result: Georgia won’t attract new companies and could lose existing ones to states that are investing in education.
The budget cuts that spurred these dramatic tuition increases weren’t inevitable. Legislators could have raised revenues but chose not to. As they scramble to find ways to pay for college next year, Georgia’s students have more and more reasons to question that decision.