College costs shifting more heavily to students, audit says

[private]The cost of attending a public college in Georgia has been piling up more heavily on students and their families as a result of budget cutbacks, tuition increases, and HOPE scholarship reductions, a state audit report says.

“Over the last ten years, decreased levels of state appropriations and changes to the HOPE scholarship have shifted a larger portion of the cost of public higher education to USG students in the form of increased tuition,” said the report released by the state auditor’s office.

During the period from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2015, the average cost of attendance for a University System student increased 77 percent from $8,361 to $14,791 per year, according to the report.

Over that same period, however, the money allocated to the University System in the state budget “failed to keep pace with enrollment, which effectively resulted in a 15 percent decrease (or a $1,288 per FTE decrease) in USG funding,” the report said.

“To offset this decrease, USG [University System of Georgia] increased tuition and instituted a special institutional fee, which did not fully offset the loss in state appropriations when considering inflation,” the report said.

College tuition has become a sensitive political issue, with Georgia ranked among the highest states in terms of tuition increases.

The Board of Regents earlier this year voted not to raise tuition for the 2016-17 academic year at the state’s public colleges, marking the first time in nearly two decades that tuition rates haven’t been increased.

The audit report noted that in addition to tuition increases, “changes to the HOPE Scholarship and institution-level decisions to increase mandatory fees and expand auxiliary programs have also played a role in students’ increased cost of attendance.”

“The average HOPE Scholarship award decreased by 22 percent ($1,087 per year) and changes in eligibility criteria reduced the number of awards made,” the report said. “Additionally, USG institutions have increased mandatory fees, excluding the special institutional fee, by an average of $218 (75 percent) per semester from $292 to $510 since 2006.”

The Regents partially addressed this issue several months ago when they voted to put a cap on how much funding athletic departments can get through student fees. Under the new policy, student fees can only make up 65 percent to 85 percent of the budgets of a college’s athletic association. There is also a 5 percent limitation on annual increases in athletic spending.

The audit of University System funding was requested by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville).

In its formal response to the audit, the Board of Regents said it has “taken multiple actions to balance providing access to students across Georgia while maintaining quality in resident instruction and core functional areas. Strategic actions taken include measures to reduce and to control costs to students while also better managing expenses incurred in performing their mission.”

Steve Wrigley, who takes over as University System chancellor on Jan. 1, “plans to introduce policy changes in early 2017 to address some of the issues noted around dining and other areas associated with auxiliary services,” the Regents said.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Board of Regents , college costs , tuition , University System