ATLANTA - The head of Georgia's university system said Tuesday that students should expect a tuition hike next year to make up for deep cuts Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed for the state's 35 public colleges and universities.
"If I were a betting person, would I expect there to be a tuition increase?" Chancellor Erroll Davis Jr. asked state legislative budget writers. "I would say yes."
Davis said the Regents would need to boost tuition by 30 percent to completely replace the state funds it was losing in Deal's budget blueprint.
"But that's not going to happen," Davis said, explaining that such an increase would price the state's universities out of reach for too many students. Instead, they're looking to also slash costs.
The state Board of Regents would consider any tuition hike after legislators adopt a state budget later this year.
Last year, the Regents hiked tuition by up to a $1,000 more for students. The increase hit hardest at research universities: Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and Georgia State University where students now pay $3,535 per semester, a 16 percent increase over last fall.
That tuition increase was met with student protests and some said expect more of the same this year.
Ryan McGinley, a graduate student at Georgia State University, said the students should not have to bear the brunt of the state's budget crisis.
"We're still dealing with the tuition hikes that have already happened," McGinley said. "This will only increase the frustration."
The $18.2 billion spending plan Deal released last week hammers the university system with cuts of almost 10 percent, Davis said.
University officials say that for the first time in recent memory, the state isn't funding formula growth driven by rising enrollment. That means the loss of $177 million to pay for some 19,000 additional students already in the system, Davis said.
Davis, who is leaving after five years the helm of the university system, said the coming year will be "the most challenging yet" as the state grapples with the loss of about $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars.
Testifying on Tuesday before a join House and Senate Appropriations Committee at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Davis implored lawmakers to restore state money as Georgia's economy rebounds. He called a college degree a way to stimulate the economy arguing that college graduates make, on average, $41,400 a year more that than a high-school dropout.
Davis said while the state's higher education system was willing to do it's fair share to weather the state's fiscal crisis, more money would eventually be needed to keep up with skyrocketing enrollment that shows no signs of slowing down.
Davis said the state has gone from a funding high of almost $8,200 per student to what will be a low of $5,507 per student, a drop of 33 percent.
"We cannot maintain quality and access without resources" Davis said.
"We will get through this year but we have 10-15,000 more students next year than we do this year so we need the resources to support them."
Earlier in the day. Deal outlined his budget proposal to state legislators and warned that although the state is showing signs of recovery - with signs of increasing consumer confidence and more Georgians working - the state was still not in the clear.
"I think all of you know we still face some real budgeting challenges," Deal told legislators. Repeating the austere message he delivered at his State of the State address last week, Deal is requiring state agencies to slash their budgets by 7 percent, the fourth straight year of budget cuts.
State economist Kenneth Heaghney, of Georgia State University, said the state was on the rebound but the recovery would be slow.
State revenues peaked in fiscal year 2007. It will be fiscal year 2015 before they reach that level again, Heaghney predicted.