Rising Tuition Not Just A Georgia Problem

This week’s Courier Herald column:

One of the more interesting semi-public power plays during this year’s General Assembly has been between legislators and the Board of Regents. Georgia’s Constitution insulates the Board of Regents and thus the University System of Georgia from direct political influence. This is to keep the whims of modern politics from imposing undue influence of academics and admissions, which could ultimately jeopardize accreditation. The input legislators have over the system is usually limited to one line item in the state budget that funds the entire system, plus any specific projects that make the short list for funding through the state’s annual bond package.

There’s evidence that Legislators would like to exert more influence over the University system, especially with regards to rising tuition rates. Early in the session, Rep David Stover of Newnan filed a bill that would change the members of the Board of Regents from being appointees of the Governor to being elected. His reasoning included tuition increases at “more than twice the rate of inflation.”

House Whip Matt Ramsey from neighboring Peachtree City has filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation. The actual power to set tuition under his bill would ultimately revert to the legislature’s Higher Education committees should a request for an increase more than the annual rate of inflation be requested by the Regents.

Both bills reflect a growing public frustration with the rising cost of higher ed. And it’s clear that the costs of a university education have been increasing faster than inflation for well over a decade. The problem with both bills is that they treat the State of Georgia’s schools as if they are in an isolated market. They are not.

A decade of southern state flagship university tuition costs
A decade of southern state flagship university tuition costs

Using the flagship schools for Georgia and our neighboring states, it’s clear that we are not alone. The tuition for an in-state student at UGA has increased 147% from the 05-06 school year to this term. But tuition at the University of Tennessee has increased 180% during that same period. The Universities of Florida, Alabama, and North Carolina have increased 134%, 119%, and 110%, respectively. Only the University of South Carolina has managed to keep tuition from doubling, but their base tuition was also 58% higher than that of UGA a decade ago.

While some like to blame the HOPE scholarship for injecting the money into the University System and inflating overall prices, it’s clear that our colleges are part of a national trend. One need look little farther than the $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt to understand that there is a pipeline of money filling all schools’ coffers.

Regents would also like to point out that the years of the sharpest tuition increases were for the 2009, 2010, and 2011 school years which were not coincidentally the toughest years of Georgia’s budget cuts. Legislators still chafe at the notion that while other state agencies made drastic cuts to services, many schools passed much of their budget cuts along to their customers in the form of higher tuition payments.

Regardless, it appears that Regents have gotten the not so subtle message of the proposed legislation. University System Chancellor Hank Huckabee announced last week that Georgia’s colleges and universities would not see a tuition increase for the 2016-2017 year. It remains to be seen whether this is enough to stave off either Stover or Ramsey’s bills, or to put any additional momentum behind the bill that would legalize casinos in Georgia – adding additional money into the University System via the HOPE program.

While legislators have the attention of college administrators, however, perhaps they should be asking for different measures. It may be difficult to maintain the quality of Georgia’s schools without matching the national market for labor talent, but perhaps Georgia could become a model for maximizing the state’s return on college investment.

Representative Jan Jones has a bill that would make it easier to keep the HOPE scholarship for students taking STEM and other harder course choices. This is a great start. The state should be investing more into graduates who will be best prepared for high paying, high demand career tracks.

The USG should go one step farther and implement mandatory career counseling and loan repayment modeling for all students beginning their freshman year. Students should be provided placement data for those in their majors, corresponding expected salaries, and a supplemental budget showing their projected discretionary income during the years they will be paying off their student loans.

Georgia is doing a good job of getting students into our universities despite the rising tuition. It’s now time to ask our colleges to match these students to majors that employers demand, or be truthful with those with who select less than lucrative options. Having students pursue majors not in demand will only set them up for a standard of living lower than the one they are experiencing on borrowed money while in school. Let’s be honest with them up front about that, rather then waiting until we hand them a diploma and payment book.

Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.

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growninGAEllynnSaltycrackerTheDeepDarkJohn Konop Recent comment authors
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greencracker
greencracker

Stop telling kids STEM is hard and start pointing out to the them that it is cool and lucrative.

Just because we pol types don’t do STEM in our jobs doesn’t mean it’s alchemy or magic. People can learn it.

John Vestal
John Vestal

Regulating increases in airline airfares doesn’t help if the airlines can just jack baggage fees thru the roof.

It’s not just tuition that’s gone ballistic. Total required fees at some USG schools add nearly another 30% on top of the tuition bill.

Calypso
Calypso
gcp
gcp

Curious as to why you limit analysis to UGA only? Would numbers be different if all university system schools were included?

The Board of Regents remind me of a kid that keeps asking for money and the parent (the legislature) gives him the money without question. Perhaps we need a legislative ombudsman that can analyze all spending in our university system and let him make recommendations to the budget/appropriation committees prior to any voting.

chefdavid
chefdavid

Great read. Do you have a link where to pull up a copy of the graph. The png is a little hard to read.

TheDeepDark
TheDeepDark

You can now click and it will be bigger.

Calypso
Calypso

One click makes you larger, one click makes you small…

bsinga
bsinga

It is important to realize that the funding model from the State budget has changed dramatically since 2010. USG schools used to be funded by how many students they could get in the door now funding form the State is based in retention and graduation rates. It is harder to keep students than recruit and retention requires things such as career counselors, better professors, better facilities all of which cost $$$. When you compare our tuition rates to Northern schools you realize just how low our tuition was 10 years ago we are now much more on par with other… Read more »

John Konop
John Konop

We need to combine the University system, JC…..with high schools. We already have a platform to build on joint enrollment. This concept needs to be enhanced from cross use of facilities as well as combining FTE from teachers to administration. We also need to create one agency controlling education, time for some real belt tightening on unnecessary spending, and focus on the classroom. The goal should be by the end of 12th grade students are either prepared for higher education, and or work ready with real marketable skills.

Ellynn
Ellynn

So who do we convince to give up their power – the Board of Regents and the Technical system with their endowments, Federal grants and loans, corporate sponsorships and the full weight of the NCAA behind them, or the 156 locally controlled and elected school boards who can pick their own spending needs (they already believe ITP get more love and money then the rural schools do from the state D of Ed. already), have access to federal funds like Title I and the school lunch program? We can currently swing some match ups between Tech and Career academies, and… Read more »

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Charlie is on point that the two bills do not appreciate the U.S. and international environment our Universities compete in. This is the wrong approach to cutting costs or selecting decision makers. At the same time we dumb down our k-12 with an edu-cracy we make efforts to attract and fund the best and brightest on the university international stage with local public funds. Career counseling is wise. Being honest with career potential is important while eliminating classes in demand but deemed incapable of repaying a student loan is not our area to instruct the university. But we can influence… Read more »

growninGA
growninGA

Financial and career counseling is already mandatory at our state universities, in the form of required credit courses that, ironically add to the cost of their education. Many also require internships (unpaid) for graduation. Can’t find an internship among the limited slots available? Then you have to substitute for-credit courses that again add even more to the cost of your education. I have a 2015 STEM graduate in the family (not currently employed in her field), one kid currently at university and six other family members that have graduated from GA universities in the last three years. Only one was… Read more »