Southern Education

Put the blame where you may: the major downturn in the economy, a former governor (Sonny Perdue) who did not take up the education mantle, or a changing and inept legislature which does not cherish education.

You may have a choice where you place the blame, but for sure, one group has been hit the hardest with this failure to adequately fund higher education. It is surely the students (and parents of students) in our state colleges.

Consider these facts:

  • The state’s share of funding higher education is decreasing.
  • The state funding per full time student is the lowest since 1994.
  • And as a result of the recent General Assembly, the funding gap is getting wider!

It is not a pretty picture.

Look at Chart 1. In 1995, the State of Georgia formula for paying for higher education meant that the state funded 75 percent, while tuition and fees provided 25 percent. Starting in 2000, the state’s percentage started falling. After a round of cuts following 9/11, this formula fell to 67 percent; after Sonny Perdue became governor, it first leveled off, then took a nosedive, so that today, the state provides only 54 percent of higher education funding.

State of Georgia is falling behind in funding higher education

This is a major decline from the “historic compact” of the state funding 75 percent of the cost of higher education.

Meanwhile, student tuition and fees accounts for 46 percent (up from 25 percent) of the formula for paying for higher education. That’s nearly a 100 percent increase! No wonder students (and parents) are upset. On top of this, consider a falling amount of Hope Scholarship funding, and the hurt of students becomes more apparent.

Look at it another way. (See Chart 2).

State Funding per FTE student is the lowest since 1994

In 1994, the state was funding $5,412 per full time equivalent student. It went as high as $8,294 in 2001, fell considerably, but bounced back to $8,191 in 2009. Since then, it has taken a nosedive in three year, to today’s $5,505 (for year 2012), which is barely above the 1994 figure!

No wonder university presidents are in an uproar, university budgets severely downsized, many courses eliminated, a higher number of students in classes, and in general, parents and students both stunned and strained in their pocketbooks. College presidents have had to eliminate positions; increase use of part time faculty, defer maintenance and reduce library holdings.

Georgia’s traditional solid support for higher education is experiencing significant trauma, with the prognosis in considerable question.

This decline in funding isn’t just hurting higher education and the student. This continuing failure to provide solid support for higher education will also be felt in the growth of economic development in the state, will considerably reduce Georgia’s ranking among states in the view of others, and will eventually impact the quality of life of all Georgians.

Georgia’s higher education fortunes were once hurt by a governor seeking to introduce pure politics in the governance of the universities. Georgia got a black eye years ago when Eugene Talmadge tried to pull this trick.

Now Georgia’s chance for high quality higher education is primarily a question of funding. Some governors have made a name for themselves by wanting to be known as an “education governor.” It didn’t work for Sonny Perdue. We hope Gov. Nathan Deal finds a way to provide leadership (particularly in regards to the Legislature) and rescue higher education so that he will be remembered as an “education governor.”

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County,, and Georgia news,