Chancellor says colleges can't do business as usual

Surging student enrollment and shrinking budgets have left Georgia’s colleges challenged and will force leaders to find new ways to operate, Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. told the State Board of Regents Tuesday.

Davis didn’t offer specifics during his annual State of the University System address. Instead, he urged college presidents and campuses to play a role in finding solutions.

“I would prefer to see more institutions sharpening, honing and tightening their missions rather than seeking to expand them based solely on institutional aspirations rather than true state need,” Davis said. “ … We also must start thinking about what activities we need to stop doing in order to bring reduced missions into alignment with reduced resources.”

Davis reminded board members that campuses have furloughed employees, raised health insurance costs and postponed raises. And while the system has tried to contain increases costs, students are facing increased expenses, he said. Raising tuition to replace state funds exacerbates the situation, he added.

Affordability was the issue for the nearly 25 students from different campuses that marched from Georgia State to where the regents were meeting Tuesday to protest higher fees. Students began paying twice as much in a special mandatory fee this month – an expense not covered by most financial aid.

Students now pay between $100 to $200 a semester, depending on where they attend.

Regents approved the hike in November after the latest round of budget cuts as Georgia struggles through a historic decline in revenue. University system staff described the increase as a last resort.

The protesters carried a banner that read: “Students are not ATMs Give back our $200!”

“We understand there is an economic crisis, but this money should not be raised off our backs,” said Ryan Haney, a graduate student in education at Georgia State.

The university system has lost about $323 million in state budget cuts since the 2009 fiscal year, officials said. At the same time, a record number of students -- more than 300,000 -- enrolled in Georgia's 35 public colleges this fall.

Davis said board members will develop principles to guide college presidents as they receive more freedom to be innovative. It will be challenging, he said, to balance the basics with creativity.

"This is the essence of what I mean when I say that business as usual will no longer work," he said. "Some of the approaches we are doing in the short term simply cannot continue for the long haul. Deferring hiring, cutting travel, eliminating training is not the recipe for future success.

He warned board members that while there will be success, they should expect some failure. He encouraged everyone to be candid in their discussions and to keep an open mind.

"We cannot sit here and wait for better days ahead," Davis said. "What will be tested is our will and our resolve to not only manage through the crisis, but to set a direction for the future as well."