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Board of Regents passes tuition increases
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Northeast Georgia public college students will pay $100 to $500 more for classes in the fall.

The state Board of Regents decided Tuesday to hike tuition after the General Assembly passed a fiscal year 2011 budget of $1.95 billion for University System of Georgia schools - a decrease of $227 million, or 10.4 percent, from the fiscal 2010 budget.

"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 as she presented budget numbers.

For state universities, such as North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega, the regents approved a $300 increase in tuition for each semester. Tuition at state colleges such as Gainesville State College in Oakwood will increase $100 per semester. At research universities such as Georgia Tech, University of Georgia and Georgia State University, tuition is up $500 per semester.

"Gainesville State College anticipated an increase in tuition but did not know the amount," President Martha Nesbitt said. "We think that the increase will not be too burdensome for our students and will help the college manage with the continuing financial constraints of our budget."

At NGCSU, the increase is higher than the $300 state university level due to additional programs that require more funding.

"Our increase is actually a bit more at $361," said Kate Maine, director of public relations for NGCSU. "In our category of state universities, some are funded with a differential and slightly higher, and we were already well below those other institutions. This represents an opportunity to fund North Georgia's unique mission related to leadership."

The tuition increase will support academics, she said.

"Enrollment is growing significantly year to year, and we have to maintain the level of academic instruction," Maine said.

Although students have left for the school year and Maine didn't talk to any today about the changes, she said she thinks most would prefer tuition hikes to other fees.

"In late February, when the legislature was discussing what would happen if significant cuts were made, many students spoke out against fees and said they would prefer to increase tuition," she said.

Statewide, the tuition increase will generate $80 million to combat budget cuts.

"Our tuition strategy helps us to preserve both access and quality, but we are not accomplishing these goals by shifting all of our costs to students and families," USG Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. said.

The board pledged to hold to the Guaranteed Tuition Plan for rising juniors and seniors, which guaranteed students the same tuition cost for four years. The regents voted to stop the program last spring for incoming students. For students with financial need, the regents also called on research universities to provide need-based aid for students with Pell Grants struggling to cover the $500 increase. However, the tuition rates do not include the price of mandatory fees, books and housing for students, which can cost thousands more per year.

"The actions of the board support its philosophy of providing a balance between broad access to public higher education and academic quality in its 35 degree-granting institutions," said John Millsaps, spokesman for the regents.

Those attending the meeting held Tuesday in Atlanta seemed nervous to hear the news, said Josh Delaney, Student Government Association president for the University of Georgia. Delaney, along with SGA presidents from Georgia Tech and Georgia State, were part of a small group of students who attend regents meetings on a regular basis.

"I wanted to go because we want the regents and leadership to know students care about the decisions they make. We're willing to be present and would like to be included," Delaney said Tuesday after the budget was passed. "I didn't get to make a speech or hold up a sign, but I'm here so they know in the future they can't use a ‘students don't care' excuse."

Returning to campus with the news, Delaney said it is now the job of student leaders to help peers understand the changes and help students who need it find financial support.

"We're also meeting this summer and fall to try to get a student voice on the board, so we don't find out in general meetings with everyone else," Delaney said. "We want to be somewhere where the numbers are scrutinized, in the background where we can have an impact."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.