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National expert discusses financial challenges in higher education
Technology changes also a factor in undergraduate redesign
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Student loan debt has exceeded credit card debt in this country.

So said George Mehaffy with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities at the University of North Georgia on Friday.

Mehaffy gave a presentation addressing the “constant changes” and challenges of higher education in the 21st century. One of these changes is the rising cost of a college degree.

Earlier this month, tuition for state universities was raised by the Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia. A large portion of Mehaffy’s presentation addressed the drastic change in the affordability of a college degree over the years.

“What I want to talk about is changes that are going to have all of us in the higher education community thinking about the work that we do going forward,” he said.

Mehaffy recently launched the Red Balloon Project with AASCU. The project is a national initiative to redesign undergraduate education because of 21st century demands, including changes in technology and reductions in funding.

“At one point states provided 60 percent or more of the cost of our education,” he said. “It’s now down to 34 percent, and at the same time, students are paying much more.”

Mehaffy presented some “simple numbers” Friday: the median household income decreased from 2006 to 2011 by 7 percent. Yet, during the same period of time, tuition at four-year public institutions increased by 18 percent.

“Students now owe more money in educational debt than we all owe in credit card debt,” he said. “It’s over $1 trillion. That’s a very dramatic change from 10, 15 or 20 years ago.”

Mehaffy said higher education is reaching a “historic threshold.” In 2012, tuition covered 47 percent of public colleges’ costs. Soon, he said, students will be paying more of a “public” college’s costs than the public is.

“We will have public institutions that the state will give no money to operate those institutions,” he said. “What does it mean to be a public institution when the public doesn’t actually support it? What kind of institution is that?”

UNG hosted a Student Money Management event Friday for state institutions on its Gainesville campus. Representatives from the University System of Georgia and state counselors, admissions officers, financial advisers and more attended the one-day conference on financial literacy.

“Teaching students how to manage their money is critical to helping them persist in college and complete their degrees,” said UNG President Bonita C. Jacobs in a release from the university. “We are honored and excited to share with other institutions what UNG is doing to ensure our students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to be fiscally responsible.”

UNG Provost Patricia Donat said Mehaffy’s presentation was an important reminder for faculty and administrators about what to expect in the future.

“It’s to help us think about how we can truly live into our new role as a real, regional, comprehensive institution that meets the needs of our service area,” Donat said. “Our campuses form kind of the hands that hold this region, and we have a stewardship responsibility for the region in which our campuses are located.”