University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby told a Wednesday lunchtime meeting of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce about efforts the Board of Regents are making to reduce expenses and make higher education more affordable for Georgia students. Huckaby told the audience that at the same time that he became Chancellor in 2011, the state’s colleges and universities were entering a “new normal,” a time when costs needed to be contained, and things had to be done differently. And five years later, he said, the new normal continues today, although some of the circumstances driving it continue to evolve.
The cost of a higher education is a big stumbling block today, Huckaby said, especially for non-traditional students. The Board of Regents does its best to keep tuition modest. And indeed, on a full time student equivalent basis, the cost per student, adjusted for inflation is approximately the same as it was in 1998. Yet the share of money needed from parents and students needed to pay for college continues to rise. While at one time, the 75% of the cost of a post-secondary education was paid for by the state, the state’s share is now below 50%.
According to Chancellor Huckaby, the Board of Regents is trying to control costs by offering more classes online. Five years ago, there were 1,571 courses available online. Now, the number is over 6,200. While in some cases, taking a given course online costs more than taking the same course on campus, there are efforts underway to reduce those costs and make online learning more affordable. Online or on campus, though the cost of textbooks continue to be a great expense for students. USG is working to reduce those costs through a multi-state effort to make materials online at a lower cost than traditional printed books. Huckaby estimates that this effort has saved $17 million across the system to date. Recognizing that fee increases had begun to grow out of hand, the Board of Regents began to “take a red pencil to most of those increases.”
In an effort to devote a higher percentage of its expenses towards teaching and less towards administration, the Board of Regents has been going through an effort to consolidate the number of colleges and universities in its system, most recently the merger of Georgia State University and Georgia Perimeter College. Currently, the Board of Regents is proceeding with the consolidation of Albany State University and Darton Colloge. Merging schools is more about being able to reduce redundant administrative departments, although it does make for difficult decisions deciding whom to keep and whom to let go.
The cost of higher education was a concern during the 2016 legislative session, where several bills were dropped as warning shots to the Board of Regents over education. With several prominent legislators, including Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, House Higher Education Committee Chair Carl Rogers, and Senate Higher Education Committee Vice-Chair P.K. Martin in attendance, part of Huckaby’s message might bave been directed to them.