It's a kick in the gut even for students and families hardened to bad financial news: Average in-state tuition and fees at Georgia's four-year public colleges rose another $631 this fall, or 8.3 percent, compared to a year ago.
Georgia Southern's tuition and fees rose to $3,303 for 15 semester hours - almost double what it was in fall 2006. In comparison, the University of Georgia's tuition and fees for this fall semester rose to $4,736 for seven or more semester hours, almost double as well.
Statistics provided by John Millsaps, associate vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, showed a 145-percent increase in the cost of tuition at Georgia Southern since 2001, and a 177-percent increase in the cost of tuition at the University of Georgia during the same time period.
According to Millsaps, tuition at University System of Georgia institutions is the result of many factors. One factor is the requirement on the Board of Regents to provide 25 percent of the cost of instruction through tuition to match the state's 75 percent contribution.
With a projected enrollment in Fall 2011 of 315,000 students in Georgia's university system, the funding formula will generate $2.7 billion in state funding. However, the state appropriated only $1.55 billion of this amount to cover its share of the cost of instruction. This leaves a $1.15 billion gap between the cost of instruction and the state funds available.
This has led the Board of Regents to increase tuition to make up some of the drop in state support. Currently, instead of the state providing 75 percent of the cost of instruction, it provides 55 percent. Tuition makes up the remaining 45 percent.
"The states cut budgets, the price goes up, and the (federal) money goes to that," said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "For 25 years we've been putting more and more money into financial aid, and tuition keeps going up. We're on a national treadmill."
The College Board reports roughly 56 percent of 2009-2010 bachelor's degree recipients at public four-years graduated with debt, averaging about $22,000. At private nonprofit universities, the figures were higher - 65 percent and around $28,000.
"Psychologically, practically, it's a big number, and it will inform important choices, like when and whether you buy a home, start a family, save for retirement or take the risk of starting a new business," said Lauren Asher, president of The Institute for College Access and Success.
Georgia Southern reports that student loans from all sources (excluding parent loans) exceeded $44 million in 2009 - 2010.
This year, for the first time, total outstanding student loan debt has passed $1 trillion, and it now exceeds outstanding credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, which represents colleges in Washington, said the cause of the price increases for the 80 percent of college students who attend public institutions is clear. State appropriations to higher education declined 18 percent per student over the last three years, the College Board found, the sharpest fall on record.
"To see increases of 20 percent, as we saw in California, to see gains of 15 percent in other states, is simply unprecedented," Hartle said. "Tuition is simply being used as a revenue substitute in many states."
Millsaps said the Board of Regents continues to be very concerned about affordability and access. The $1 billion drop in state support over the last decade means that state support per student has decreased $3,000. Yet tuition over the past decade has increased on average only $2,316 per student. Where possible, tuition increases have been limited to what was absolutely necessary to maintain academic quality.
Millsaps said the Board of Regents is asking institutions to look closely at all spending and make the reductions needed to match the dollars available and maintain academic programs. The goal is to help students and families as much as the budget will permit to minimize the financial effect of ongoing budget reductions to public higher education.
The University System of Georgia is comprised of 35 institutions: Research Universities (4); Regional Universities, including Georgia Southern (2); State Universities (13); State Colleges (14); and Two-Year Colleges (2).