If you have a child attending one of Georgia’s public universities, you may have the perception that the cost of college is going up faster here than just about anywhere else.
There’s a reason you would have this perception: It’s accurate.
A new study released by the Urban Institute shows that from 2010 to 2015, the tuition for four-year public colleges increased by 48 percent in Georgia. That was higher than the increases in every other state except Louisiana, where tuition costs went up by 56 percent.
In 2001-02, Georgia provided an average of $10,598 in public funds for every full-time college student. Thanks to budget-cutting and an economic downturn, that amount was reduced to $9,756 by 2007-08. It declined even more to $8,553 in 2011-12, Gov. Nathan Deal’s first year in office.
Thankfully, the money Georgia allocates for colleges increased to $8,882 per student by 2013-14, but that’s still a substantial drop from what it once was.
As the state provided less money for public colleges, the Board of Regents made up the difference by raising tuition rates. As a result, the average tuition at Georgia’s public colleges has tripled since the 2002-03 academic year.
There was a time when tuition only had to cover about 25 percent of the costs of attending college. Today, because of continuing cutbacks in funding, tuition has to cover about half the cost — placing more of a financial burden on college students and their parents.
Let’s look at another important number: the amount of money allocated to instructional expenditures in public colleges. This is the money that pays for professors’ salaries and for the classrooms and lab facilities used by students.
During the 2012-13 academic year, the national average expenditure per student for instructional purposes was $9,480. Georgia’s per-student expenditure for that year was $6,669, ranking it 46th in the country. Only Florida, Utah, Montana and South Dakota spent less per student.
These numbers are important because Deal has said that increasing the number of people who attend college or technical college would be one of his top priorities.
“By 2020, more than 60 percent of job openings in Georgia will require some form of postsecondary education,” Deal said during his first term. “To meet this demand, we must increase the number of students graduating with post-secondary degrees in a timely, cost-effective manner.”
When you keep boosting tuition rates, however, you ensure that fewer people will be able to afford college. We can see this in the enrollment numbers.
Since 2011, the total enrollment in Georgia’s public colleges has declined slightly or stayed flat each academic year. University system enrollment is now about 318,000 students, which is where it was in the fall of 2011, even though the state’s overall population has continued to grow.
Here’s more evidence of what rising tuition is doing to the price of an education. There are now more than 136,000 students in Georgia who have to take out a loan to help pay college costs. This represents more than half of the university system’s total undergraduates.
Many students who do manage to stay in college and earn a degree must sign for loans that can take them years to pay off after graduation — if indeed they can ever liquidate them.
Last year, according to the university system, there were 9,500 students who were on the verge of being dropped from the college rolls because of money shortages. About 3,000 of them were able to obtain “gap funding” to help pay those final costs, but the rest were presumably kept out of school.
We are putting students in a crushing financial vise. As public funding of the university system is reduced, tuition and fees keep getting raised, which makes college education unaffordable for more students and their families.
Deal is correct when he says Georgia needs to increase its number of college graduates. That’s the sort of thing all governors should strive for, and it would be good for the future of this state.
It’s now time for the governor to step up to the plate and push the legislature to restore public college funding to somewhere near the level it used to be. Otherwise, we’re writing off another generation of students.
Tom Crawford is the editor of the Georgia Report at gareport.com.