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Georgia receives low grade for investment in higher education

The Red & Black 

By: Daniel Funke

Efforts to expand access to colleges and universities in Georgia may not be benefiting students and their families as much as those in other states, according to a recent report.

The Student Impact Project, a rating system conducted by the public policy organization Young Invincibles, gave Georgia a grade of C+ for its higher education policies, and included factors such as tuition, state aid and burden on families.

According to the report, tuition rates in Georgia have risen 79 percent in the past five years, resulting in an average debt load of $22,443. In addition, the state legislature has cut support for higher education by 30 percent since 2007, leading to a 96 percent increase in the burden placed on families.

“Higher education budget cuts handicap not only students and their families, but the larger American economy,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of YI, in a press release. “Large tuition increases and declining financial aid have driven students into greater debt at a time they can least afford it.”

Colin Seeberger, the communications coordinator for YI, said the study focused on how state educational policies affected students and their families.

“Twenty-five years ago, states picked up about 80 percent of the tab of higher education. We’ve seen a shift in the burden away from the states and toward students,” he said. “We sort of broke down how the higher ed budget in each state affects students. We wanted to amplify the student perspective, so we looked at what would affect them.”

Ryan Nesbit, the vice president for finance and administration at the University of Georgia, said the university is constantly seeking ways it can provide financial aid to help students and their families.

“A very high priority of our administration is keeping education affordable while at the same time maintaining the quality of the academic experience,” he said.

Nesbit said the administration routinely conducts operational efficiency evaluations in order to make sure UGA is using its funds as efficiently as possible so that additional steps may be taken to contribute to the educational process.

The Red & Black attempted to contact the UGA Office of Student Financial Aid, but it declined to comment.

Although Georgia received low grades for changes in tuition rates and the burden policies place on families, Seeberger said state aid initiatives, such as the HOPE Scholarship, are improving student access to higher education.

“A C+ isn’t great, but at the same time there are a lot of states that are in a lot worse shape than that,” he said. “In terms of improvement, there’s got to be a way that we can reverse the trend in having the costs shift to being on families. We have to find a way that the states can pick up a bigger part of the tab.”

Emma Wakeman, a freshman women’s studies major from Atlanta, said HOPE is an indicator of Georgia’s commitment to higher education.

“We got a C+, but also we have the HOPE Scholarship, which I think is a huge difference between [UGA] and other state universities,” she said.

Seeberger said YI conducted the project by collecting policy data from each state and then averaging that with other states.

“We averaged all [the factors], we took the data, we standardized it based on some sort of plausible baseline, whether it was the national average or the rate of inflation, we scored every state, gave them a letter grade for each subject and the final grade is an average of all those,” he said.