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Fiscal year challenge for University System

LAWRENCEVILLE — The upcoming fiscal year will be one of the most challenging the University System of Georgia has ever experienced, Chancellor Erroll Davis told the Daily Post this week.

Although the economy is picking up, education budgets are lagging behind, he said. One of the biggest concerns is the $1.5 billion infusion of federal stimulus funding will “go away instantly” in the 2011-12 budget year.

“The problem is, of course, diminished revenue is not accompanied by diminished demands,” Davis said during a meeting with the Daily Post editorial board.

One of the demands is the need for additional laboratory space at colleges throughout the state, Davis said one of the most highly used areas on campus is the lab space, and colleges and universities need more of them.

Georgia Gwinnett College President Daniel Kaufman has said his institution will need to construct additional labs on campus before an allied health and science building can be constructed.

Davis said Georgia Gwinnett College, which opened in 2006 in Lawrenceville and has essentially doubled its enrollment each year, is experiencing “growing pains.”

“(But) we can’t give it all the money in the system,” he said.

The state money allocated to colleges and universities is determined by a formula. The formula is driven by growth. It is designed to pay about 75 percent of the cost of education, while the other 25 percent is covered by tuition.

Because of reductions, Davis said the percentage the state has been paying has decreased to a percentage in the low 60s or high 50s. Tuition, therefore, has increased.

Those cuts mean the University System has lost about $1,800 in support per student, Davis said. Overall, the support level has dropped to the level it was in 1996, when the system had 60,000 students.

Looking toward the future, Davis said the system has to be innovative, not only in meeting its funding needs but in meeting the educational needs of its customers.

Students of traditional college age — 18 to 22 years old — account for only 22 to 23 percent of the system’s enrollment, Davis said. The system can’t continue to structure around the traditional model.

For example, Davis said, the system needs to look more closely at distance learning, as well as class times and when semesters start. State colleges and universities all start their classes at the beginning of a semester, but some private institutions will start instruction whenever they have enough students interested in taking a class.

“We need to be more flexible, more responsive,” he said. “We’ve got to change.”