University system facing $100M in cuts

The head of Georgia’s university system promised to cut $100 million in administrative costs during the next two years and said Wednesday that Georgia colleges need new funding for needs-based scholarships.

Chancellor Erroll Davis, in Macon for a Board of Regents meeting, said those scholarships probably will have to be privately funded, perhaps by foundations like one at the Georgia Institute of Technology. That program, Tech Promise, helps low-income students pay for school as long as they keep a 2.0 grade-point average.

“It is difficult for me to envision scenarios where we get more money out of the state,” Davis said. “We need to start talking about raising more money.”

Efforts are also under way to make the system more efficient, said Davis, who promised that a “leaner and more adroit of foot” system will emerge from the current economic downturn.

Tuition increases haven’t been popular with Davis’ bosses, the 18-member Board of Regents appointed by the governor. State funding for higher education has been cut, much as it has for all state departments. The state doesn’t fund any needs-based scholarships, though the HOPE scholarship program used to include income caps.

Those were removed years ago and would be difficult to restore politically, even though projections show HOPE’s expenses outstripping the lottery revenues funding the program in coming years.

“In many ways, HOPE has become an entitlement program,” Davis said Wednesday.

That leaves private foundation funding as a way to boost revenues, an idea that was kicked around a bit Wednesday at the Regents meeting at Macon State College.

“We ought to be able to provide more need-based scholarships,” said Regent Felton Jenkins. “Who would qualify? Where the money would come from? Those are unanswered questions.”

The board members, who set budget and policy for 35 public colleges and universities, spent much of Tuesday visiting Middle Georgia campuses. They had dinner Tuesday at the Macon home of Regents Chairman Robert Hatcher and met as a board Wednesday.

A presentation on college graduation rates was given, and the news was not good for the host campus.

Macon State graduates about 13 percent of bachelor degree students within six years, the figures show. The University of Georgia graduates about 78 percent of its students, Georgia Tech about 77 percent and the statewide average for four-year public colleges is about 56 percent.

Macon State is so low, at least in part, because it is an “open admission” school, college President David Bell said. That means it accepts anyone who wants to attend.

“It is not OK,” said Marti Venn, Bell’s vice president for academic affairs. “But there are a lot of variables.”

Bell said that, in the future, the college plans to hold professors more accountable for student retention by keeping track of a dropout’s professors and advisers.

But that was just a brief part of Bell’s presentation to the Regents. He said the school eventually wants to offer on-campus housing and to hit 10,000 in student enrollment by 2020. Enrollment was about 6,400 students in fall 2008, according to the college’s Web site.

He also said the college will continue to tailor its programs to the economy, producing nurses and teachers and the like.

“Every time we graduate a new bachelor’s degree student, we create a new middle-class family,” Bell said.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Davis stopped by The Telegraph to meet with the newspaper’s editorial board. He touched on a variety of topics.

Ÿ The quality of education: Davis said students entering the university system today read and write as well as freshmen did in the 1980s. The difference is expectations have increased.

“We’re doing an excellent job of giving a 1980s education,” he said. High school curriculum changes put in place two years ago should lead to improvement, but it will be another couple of years before those students head to college, he said.

Ÿ Future budget cuts: The system’s budget for the next fiscal year includes potential cuts ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent, and state leaders will have to make a decision on how much to cut based on how tax revenues come in over the next six months or so. At 8 percent, student fees would increase, Davis said. That would mean an extra $75 to $100 for Macon State College students and up to $150 at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Ÿ Employee furloughs: System employees plan to take furlough days over the coming year to save money, but not all 40,000 employees will have to take those days. There are exemptions for safety and emergency personnel, those who make less than $23,000 a year and about 740 foreign workers in Georgia on a visa. Davis and Regents spokesman John Millsaps said the federal paperwork involved with cutting salaries for foreign workers, many of whom are doing post-doctoral work, is complex and requires a filing fee. That means it might cost more to do the paperwork than could be saved by the furloughs.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.