Georgia’s colleges and universities — and more important, Georgia’s students — are in a vicious economic spiral.The state keeps cutting spending, including education spending, to balance its budget in the slow recovery from the Great Recession.
Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed cuts of $108 million from the University System of Georgia, $54 million this fiscal year and another $54 million the next. The state has also had to revamp the HOPE scholarship program due to falling revenues: HOPE now pays a smaller percentage of college costs. Meanwhile, the University System has seen a drop in enrollment, no doubt due at least in part to rising costs.
So not only is higher education getting less state money, but it is also getting less tuition money. Which could force more tuition hikes, which could put college out of reach for even more students.
What Georgia (or any other state) can’t sustain is the soaring costs of higher education, which at some schools has increased by as much as 75 percent just over the last two years. The current situation won’t improve those stark numbers any.
To a large extent, state cuts aren’t discretionary: Georgia is constitutionally required to have a balanced budget. Deficit spending, even for something as important as education, isn’t an option. The state’s colleges reportedly are trying to find cuts that have the least impact on instruction and research, but that can go only so far.
Meanwhile, the state’s leadership needs to think the same way: Can the budget be balanced without drastic cuts in education? Because the long-term price of putting college out of reach for students will be a lot higher than Georgia saves.