Local students joined those from across the state Monday at the Capitol to rally against budget cuts to the University System of Georgia.
What was once $300 million in proposed cuts is now down to $117 million, but many programs remain on the chopping block, including master’s degree programs in nursing at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and the swimming program at Gainesville State College in Oakwood.
“There are still going to be budget cuts, but they are much less than the original $300 million that were proposed,” said Martin Erbele, North Georgia Student Government Association president. “If higher education funding was cut by that much, it would decrease quality, and we could lose some institutions in the long run.”
Hundreds still gathered in Atlanta in the event organized by Georgia Students for Public Higher Education, a group created by University System of Georgia students, alumni, faculty and supporters.
“Most people involved thought that it was a success,” said Ryan McGinley, one of the event organizers and a student at Georgia State University in Atlanta. “I estimate that there were around 500 participants. Our goal was to really bring out a united student voice and a sympathetic voice for campus workers and faculty (who face furlough days and layoffs).”
The student group was formed in 2009 in response to fee hikes, and the call to protest was made following the announcement of a proposal outlining $300 million in budget cuts for the University System of Georgia.
Correspondence late last week from university system Chancellor Erroll B. Davis to university system administrators detailed the reduced budget cuts, changing the mood for some student leaders at Monday’s protest.
“The original cuts were beyond reason and fairness — the new proposal is less extreme,” Erbele said. “The (university system) is such a huge part of the state’s budget, and we (students) are willing to be a part of the solution and we support having an equal share of (the state’s) budget cuts.”
The memo from Davis expanded on how proposed cuts were made.
“Technically, the reductions are not in state funds, but in federal stimulus funds, which is an important distinction because the stimulus funds were slated to end at the end of (fiscal) 2011 anyway,” Davis wrote in the memo.
Although the new proposal is nearly half of the original cuts, some student leaders say that’s still too much.
“We could ultimately see (the original) cuts coming in several rounds,” McGinley said. “They may have softened the initial blow, but it is still too much for students who are in an already difficult (financial) situation.”
Ultimately, the status of the university system’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be determined by the General Assembly. The assembly hasn’t adopted a fiscal 2011 budget yet, but a vote is expected within the next few weeks.