In a guest column, college professor James Crabbe asks why higher education in Georgia is under siege at the same time it is critical to the economy and growth of the state.
A professor at Georgia Gwinnett College since 2011, Crabbe teaches epidemiology, anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, exercise psychology and motor learning.
By James Crabbe
With all due respect, I can’t for the life of me understand why, last year, the presidents of each of the 26 institutions in the University System of Georgia did not band together to display their dismay with, disappointment with, and outright rejection of the higher education budget at the time.
It is clear the budget cuts to our public campuses were unnecessary. This is especially troubling because education is a major driver of a healthy economy. Why would anyone in Georgia want to cripple a major contributor to a healthy economy?
The present budget for the University System of Georgia is $9 billion. The 2024 budget was to be cut by around $105 million; now the estimate is closer to $66 million. This affects all USG schools, including the campus where I teach biology, Georgia Gwinnett College. At faculty meetings, we are being warned to expect to see the effects of budget reductions, such as lower faculty pay for teaching summer courses and higher class sizes.
In January, Georgia had a $6.6 billion surplus. Why is USG suffering a budget cut of $66 million? The funds are clearly available. The cut to higher education is a small share of the state surplus, less than 1.6%. The budget cut makes no sense when you consider the state’s robust financial condition. Because of the economic boom, ironically, that came after the initial COVID-19 shock, Georgia tax receipts have risen.
Also, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act distributed $4.2 billion to Georgia. Some of this CARES Act money remains; some has yet to be dispersed. The point of the money was to fortify institutions that were injured by COVID-19 — the exact thing that happened to USG and Georgia Gwinnett College. Those funds should be used for education. Education is one of the main drivers of the nation’s and Georgia’s growth and success.
Furthermore, the state government should return to its commitment of funding 75% of the University System of Georgia budget. This commitment was slashed to below 50% as a result of the financial crisis of 2008. It has yet to return. If it did, then none of the budget cuts would be necessary. This alone would obviate the need for any relief from surpluses or federal aid.
Another source of funding exists, the Georgia Lottery, designed to support K-12 and higher education. In 2022, almost a billion dollars went to fund the HOPE Scholarship. The Georgia Lottery has more than $1.1 billion in unrestricted surplus funding available that could be used to plug budget holes and expand funding for institutions that need the support and support the economy. That is, lottery dollars could be used for more than pre-K, K-12 and HOPE funding. Legislation would be required to broaden the scope of what the lottery can fund, but that is what legislators have the power to do.
If the extra money is provided to the University System of Georgia and its 26 campuses, the returns are potentially enormous. The money gets spent right away in Georgia by its employees, thus boosting the economy, good faculty and staff remain in Georgia, enhancing sociocultural environments and the economy, and students benefit enormously and in near perpetuity, which further contributes to the economic growth of Georgia. Not funding education makes zero sense. Zero.
Instead, good professors are leaving university campuses and students are getting less attention (larger class sizes) and being taught by less wise and knowledgeable professors (lesser degrees and lesser experience). The attrition has been and will be slow and arduous, but it is meaningful and impactful.
All across USG institutions, morale is down among professors and staff as they are asked to do more with less. It’s been a constant grind since I became a professor. I absolutely love teaching. I love to see the light come on in a student’s eyes when a concept is grasped. But push may come to shove. Maybe the Georgia Legislature and the Board of Regents want fewer well-educated citizens. If that is the case, then that is in direct conflict with just about every business owner I know.
Georgia needs to quit the push to dismantle higher education in the state. If our leaders keep it up, then 20 years from now, we will move to the back of the line of state rankings in economic development and enviable places to live.