Georgia Highlands College

But State Funding Still Trending Down Per Student

Georgia Highlands College has been allocated $1.6 million in new funds to support enrollment growth and strategic initiatives for fiscal year 2011 by the Board of Regents.  Its state appropriation, including stimulus funds, is $14,624,740.  When tuition and fees are added, the total budget rises to $26,366,799. The Regents divided among its 35 institutions state funds of $1.95 billion earmarked for the University System of Georgia.  The USG allocation may sound like a lot, but it's still 10 percent less than the 2010 budget.  Nevertheless, the amount is greater than USG officials had predicted.  In April, Chancellor Erroll Davis was tasked by the Appropriations Committee of the Georgia General Assembly to make additional cuts of $300 million to the system budget on top of the $265 million it had already planned.  The USG had previously sustained several reductions in funding.

For Georgia Highlands, planning for cuts that amounted to one fourth of the college's state allocation would have had to include the temporary closing of the institution's two newest sites in Paulding and Douglas Counties.  In the case of the latter, it would also have meant paying $1 million to get out of a recently signed lease for renovated facilities in Douglasville.  It also would have targeted two other popular and important programs for elimination, dental hygiene and physical education, as well as a reduction in the number of nursing students in its programs in Rome and Marietta.  

In making his remarks, Dr. Randy Pierce, GHC's president, said that the worst-case scenario had been avoided.  All current programs will remain.  GHC just graduated 146 nurses from its Rome and Marietta cohorts.  “Although we feel very fortunate to be able to retain these important programs, we are not unscathed,” Pierce said.

While enrollment numbers have continued to increase by double-digit percentages, state funding has sharply declined.  Since 2001, GHC enrollment has more than doubled.  In 2001, the state allocation per full-time student was $6,200; in 2011, it is nearly half that much at just over $3,500.  The college sustained budget cuts in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010 and now 2011.  Faculty and staff haven't had raises since 2008, and during the 2010 fiscal year endured six furlough days and increases in health insurance contributions.  Ironically, the college's state funding has continued to rise, even though the amount is now less per student.  These increases are due to significant enrollment increases, and they have kept Georgia Highlands from eliminating or reducing important programs.

Pierce said the college has been able to weather much of the budget crisis because the cuts weren't as drastic as they could have been and because GHC can respond quickly to fluid conditions.  “One characteristic of two-year colleges is that we must continually redefine who we are based on the needs and wants of our constituents, students, communities and the state.  One of the advantages of an institution like GHC is that we can respond to changes quickly.  In some ways, we can be more nimble than other institutions.”

The two-year sector, of which Georgia Highlands College is a part, will get only minimal benefit from the statewide tuition increases, which will total $45 a semester for a full-time student.  At the same time, students will appreciate that tuition will rise just $3 per semester hour.  GHC's students take an average of 10 hours per semester, so their tuition would increase by only $30.

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