ATLANTA - The state Board of Regents on Tuesday adopted a guaranteed tuition plan that university system officials and Gov. Sonny Perdue promised will give students and parents predictability in college costs.
"We all know the advantages of a fixed-rate mortgage,'' Perdue said during a news conference shortly after the Regents' unanimous vote. "We thought the idea of a fixed rate could be applied to another major expense, a college education.''
The board also approved what university system Chancellor Erroll Davis called "reasonable'' tuition increases for the coming school year for students already enrolled in one of the system's 35 institutions.
Tuition will rise by 5 percent this fall at the four research universities, including the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, go up by 4 percent at the system's regional and state universities and increase by 3 percent at two-year colleges.
But the Regents spent the bulk of Tuesday's meeting hearing a presentation on the new guaranteed tuition plan.
Freshmen entering the system this fall will pay the same tuition - $1,946 per semester at the research universities - for four years. That's $36 more than current students will pay during the coming semester.
Students at regional and state universities will be guaranteed a tuition of $1,280 per semester for four years, $12 higher than this fall's comparable rate for current students.
A three-year guarantee for students at two-year colleges will set tuition at $802 per semester. That's $8 above this fall's tuition for current students at those schools.
But Davis said that, based on an average anticipated tuition hike of 5 percent per year, students and their parents will end up saving money over four years.
"We will collect slightly less revenue,'' he said. "We should be able to manage a 1 percent to 2 percent revenue difference.''
Davis said the plan will encourage students to graduate in four years, a major consideration for a university system plagued with overcrowding at some schools.
"If more students move through the system quicker, we free up space for additional students,'' he said.
While guaranteed tuition would take away some of the university system's flexibility to deal with the effects of unexpected economic downturns, Davis said the schools would look to other sources of revenue - including the General Assembly - to pull them through.
Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Douglasville, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said he's certain university officials would find grateful lawmakers cooperative should such a situation arise.
"Every year, we worry about what tuition decisions are going to be,'' he said. "For once, we'll be able to say to our constituents, 'Tuition is going to stay the same.' ''
While Hembree, Davis and members of the Board of Regents joined Perdue in trumpeting the new tuition guarantee, Democrats criticized the increases current students will face this fall and blamed them on more than $1 billion in cuts to the university system's funding formula since the Republican governor took office.
Freshmen at some universities will be paying nearly 40 percent more in tuition this fall than those who started in the 2002-03 school year, according to a Democratic news release.
"Georgia families are paying the price yet again for Gov. Perdue's lack of commitment to education,'' state Democratic Chairman Bobby Kahn said.
Also Tuesday, the Regents approved a series of mandatory student fees.
While many of next semester's fees will be the same or only slightly higher, the board authorized the new Georgia Gwinnett College to charge students a $100 fee for parking, up from the current fee of $18.
The money will go toward the construction of a parking garage on the campus off Collins Hill Road in Lawrenceville.