Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bargain Rates in Question at State Colleges; Some Wonder How Long Low Rates Can Maintain Schools' High Quality

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bargain Rates in Question at State Colleges; Some Wonder How Long Low Rates Can Maintain Schools' High Quality

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA -- Whenever they raise tuition, the officials at Georgia's public colleges and universities always rely on a statistic they know is on their side to make their case.

Georgia's tuition is one of the best bargains in the region.

Indeed, the cost of Georgia's public four-year universities ranked 16th out of 16 states in the Southern Regional Education Board in 2004-05. Two-year colleges ranked 14th.

But that didn't save the state from a low grade on the 2004 edition of the "Measuring Up" report issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. That group gave Georgia an F overall, including a D for the state's four-year schools.

Some lawmakers and students also are beginning to wonder if the state's colleges are increasing tuition at a rate that might lock some students out of school, or at least their choice of schools.

University officials, for their part, say affordability is one of their key concerns when it comes to setting the tuition rate. But they also say the state's institutions can't continue to set low tuition and deliver high quality.

The situation isn't helped by the fact that Georgia has little to no need-based aid for low-income residents who don't quality for the HOPE scholarship. Advocates say it's just those students who need help the most.

Timothy Shelnut, chairman of the state Board of Regents, doesn't hesitate when asked how much of a factor affordability is in crafting tuition rates.

"That's probably [the] No. 1 priority," Shelnut said.

Some university officials are beginning to push for change.

"I don't want to be at the top of that list, but I don't want to be at the bottom of that list, either," University of Georgia President Michael Adams said. "... By any measure we are a tremendous bargain, and I frankly think too big a bargain."

There's only so long those bargain rates can be kept in place before quality begins to be affected, Adams and other say. After all, many of the schools with which UGa and Georgia Tech are competing have higher tuition rates.

"Sooner or later, it's going to catch up with you," said Hank Huckaby, senior vice president for finance and administration at UGa.

TRYING TO STAY OUT OF IT

Even some lawmakers -- naturally curious about tuition because of the effect it has on their constituents -- are willing to give the regents a pass on tuition.

"Our state institutions are well in line compared to the others in the South," said Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus.

House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans, said lawmakers did plan to keep an eye on tuition rates, but would avoid involvement if at all possible.

"I don't know that we need to micromanage the university system and try to set their tuition rates," Harbin said. …

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