By Itoro Umontuen

Enrollment has fallen throughout the public colleges in Georgia over the last six years. University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue appealed to lawmakers inside the State Capitol Tuesday morning to increase the funding for higher education despite the fact enrollment has decreased in twenty out of the twenty-six member colleges in the system. 

Augusta University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, Georgia Southwestern State University and Kennesaw State University saw enrollment increases between fall 2016 and fall 2022.

Governor Brian Kemp’s proposed budget would spend $3.2 billion on universities this year and an estimated $25 million more next year. It also includes an additional $87 million in state money for a $2,000 pay raise for state-covered employees. 

Perdue said universities will have to find $40 million to increase pay for more than 15,000 employees not covered by the state. The proposed mid-year budget request covering state spending through the end of June does include $105 million for a state-of-the-art medical records system at Augusta University.

“Obviously, leadership has been about vision and hope,” Perdue said. “And you have to do both the reality you can’t ignore the reality of where we are with the formula with declining enrollment.”

Perdue credited his time as Georgia Governor from 2003-2011 as a testament that he can handle times of austerity. He said governing during those times while maintaining a Triple-A bond rating demonstrates it can be done. Perdue also believes the proactive attitude that the presidents have done is thinking about their realignment, how they would budget their institutions in relation to the real reality of modern reality of where their budgets are going to be will serve them well during the times ahead.

“They understand these things,” Perdue said. “They understand the impact of their enrollments that way, and I’m coming as their advocate on some of these issues, like M&O, salary formulas and those to let you all know that while we’re going to make it work, and we’re going to try to make it work and do more with less at some point literally, for some of our smaller institutions with their percentage cut is very, very difficult.”

Perdue did not rule out the possibility of layoffs at smaller institutions.

The Technical College System of Georgia saw enrollment increases of 2%. However, funding will fall by $9 million due to previous declines in enrollment. An estimated $130 million has been earmarked for job training centers for two electric vehicle assembly plants. However, overall funding is expected fall slightly to $443 million next year, with the planned pay raises, under Governor Kemp’s proposal. 

State Representative Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, highlighted the idea that other states utilize a formula that includes the number of students that are making satisfactory progress towards a degree as well as the number of students that are successfully enrolled into college. Perdue responded by saying the Board of Regents are laser focused on retention for student success due to many different factors such as the loss of financial aid or other mitigating circumstances.

“It’s not something we like, but it’s something that I believe can make us better as we eventually come out of this,” Perdue said. “As we work with you all on looking at different formulaic factors. I think again, you can do more with less for a long time until you do less with less. And that’s the challenge that we have here and determining where that point is as we go forward.”

This post was originally published on The Atlanta Voice.