Plans to cope with potential state cuts include layoffs, hiring freezes, program reductions and the delay of building repairs - all as students prepare to return to campus for the fall semester. University system vice chancellor Usha Ramachadran told the state Board of Regents on Tuesday that the system could face up to $154 million in cuts this fiscal year.
"We're doing all we can to make sure students have a quality, affordable, accessible education," Chancellor Erroll David said after the monthly board meeting in downtown Atlanta. "Morale is as high as it can be under the circumstances."
The board accepted plans for up to 8 percent in cuts - all contingency plans in case the state's economy takes another dive. State lawmakers have already cut $227 million from higher education spending this fiscal year, and Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered another $77 million withheld from payouts to state agencies and departments.
All of that comes as enrollment has skyrocketed at the state's 35 colleges and universities to 316,000 this fall, up from 259,000 just three years ago. The increase is the equivalent of the enrollment at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University combined.
That means the per-student funding from the state is about $6,200 - what it was in 1996. That number will only fall as enrollment spikes and funding lags, Davis said.
"It's going down like a rock," he said.
The cuts are hitting students where it hurts the most: their wallets. Students will pay up to $1,000 more in tuition this fall, with students at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University paying the largest increase of 16 percent to $3,535 per semester.
The cuts drew protests from students last spring at the state Capitol, with hundreds chanting "No budget cuts!" and holding signs that said "We love our education" and "What about our future?"