By JEFF AMY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) – College costs don’t always go up. For nearly all of the 340,000 students at Georgia’s public universities and colleges, things will go downhill next fall.
That’s thanks to a large increase in government funding given in exchange for cleaning up a household hangover that had lasted more than a decade.
The governors of the Georgia university system, meeting Tuesday at Albany State University, approved tuition and fee rates for the system’s 26 schools, which will result in a 7.6% reduction in overall costs at a typical school. Students save between $226 for a full two-semester load at Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong campus in Savannah and $1,088 at Georgia Tech.
The one exception is Macon-based Middle Georgia State University, where total undergraduate fees in the state will increase by $20 to $4,762 next year as part of a three-year plan to increase tuition to match similar universities to reconcile.
The typical Georgia school charges students $6,716 this year, which will drop to $6,360 next year. Costs range from $11,764 at Georgia Tech to $3,306 at East Georgia State College in Swainsboro.
“This is a huge win for the students,” Tracey Cook, the acting vice-chancellor for financial affairs, told Regents on Tuesday.
The nationwide increase in college costs slowed sharply in 2021-22, with the College Board noting that tuition and fees for domestic students at four-year public colleges rose just 1.6%.
Georgia’s typical tuition and fees are lower than all but three states in the 16-state region covered by the Southern Regional Education Board. Board officials said Wednesday that although a number of schools in the area have reduced tuition for certain groups or for short periods with federal COVID-19 money, they are unaware of any large system that will cut costs for all students in lately permanently lowers years.
Many students pay less than the sticker price because of other grants. But more than 40% of Georgian students are now borrowing to pay for college, with students at some universities borrowing more than $6,000 on average.
Regents have kept tuition flat for three years and five of the last seven years. But a fee called the “special institutional fee” was levied on top of tuition during the $1 billion in federal budget cuts during the Great Recession of 2009, and it remained in place, although it was meant to be temporary. Most mandatory fees are for specific purposes such as technology, intercollegiate athletics, student activities, or transit. But the special institutional fee only existed to raise money for general expenses on top of tuition.
Unlike the tuition fees, the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarships in Georgia cannot be used to pay for the special institutional fee, meaning it went into the pockets of more students. HOPE Scholarships are awarded to students who graduate with a B-average from high school and maintain a B-average in college.
Last December, a legislative committee recommended abolishing the fee. Then university leaders said the $230 million it generated was too much to eliminate unless replaced with government money.
But because of the scintillating growth in federal revenue, Governor Brian Kemp and lawmakers agreed to do just that. They provided the system with a total of $661 million in new state money and increased funding by 27% to not only offset the fee, but $219 million for a full year of $5,000 raises for college employees and $107 million for student enrollment additions and buildings and $66 million for building repairs and renovations.
“It’s the best budget I’ve seen in a long time since I was in the university system,” Cook said.
In all, lawmakers will spend $3.12 billion in state funds on universities in the year beginning July 1, part of a total budget of $9.2 billion that is also expected to include $3.13 billion in tuition, $1.63 billion in federal funding and $1.32 billion in research funding.
Tuition will decrease by the largest percentage at schools where many students are pursuing a two-year degree, such as B. at East Georgia State, Rome-based Georgia Highlands College and Perimeter College of Georgia State University. There, due to the low tuition fees, fees accounted for a large part of the total cost.
“The elimination of this special fee is a big deal for our students,” said Regent Neal Pruitt.
Five schools will raise other fees. In any case, after the other fee increases, the cost will still be lower.
Some students who receive the HOPE Scholarship — or the HOPE Scholarship for college students — could also get more aid, since lawmakers have ordered the Georgia Student Finance Commission to use that aid to cover at least 90% of tuition, whatever the expenses increased by $25 million.
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