Rep. Rick Jeffares, a state senator from Henry County, is proposing a plan that attempts to reduce college costs for Georgia students. The plan would lock in tuition for incoming freshmen during their next four years at school, preventing hiking tuition rates as students work on their degrees.
But is simply locking the exorbitant price of tuition enough to help students?
Median federal loan debt for Georgia students seeking a bachelor’s degree has more than doubled over the past decade at most four-year schools, ranging from from $5,500 at the University of North Georgia to more than $18,000 at Albany State University.
As a recent graduate from the University of Georgia, I can say that even those numbers don’t show just how expensive college can be. At UGA, the estimated cost to attend, including tuition, fees, living expenses and school expenses is $26,404 for one year.
Meanwhile, Georgia wages haven’t caught up to rising costs in education, and the trusty HOPE Scholarship has been progressively cut more and more over the past few years. The scholarship that many students rely on now only covers 65 percent of tuition and mandatory fees.
Universities believe they have their hands tied with trying to help students – schools are severely limited in the money they can offer in scholarships.
“I don’t think there is a huge amount of waste on our campus,” said Kim Brown, senior associate vice president of business and financial services at Georgia Southern University. “Our operating budgets on this campus have not had an increase in more than 10 years, and staff haven’t had a raise in six or seven years.”
Since Georgia also does not have a statewide needs-based aid program, most of the pressure to pay for college is put on families and students themselves. Students take on jobs, but working for more than 25 hours per week can hinder class performance, especially for low-income students, according to a new study by the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce.
Often, students turn to federal loans, and students enter the job market with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
The debt becomes even more burdensome to students who are forced to drop out due to lack of funds. In 2014 and 2015, about 13,000 students were removed from university rolls when they were unable to pay. Now, they face an incredible debt with no degree to bolster their paycheck.
Clearly, locking in already unaffordable tuition prices isn’t going to help students, particularly low-income students. Experts say the state needs to step in to make college more affordable for students.
“That can be funding the institutions themselves; it also can be investing in financial aid,” said Debbie Cochrane, vice president of The Institute for College Access and Success. “Folks aren’t just asking for higher education to be supported because it’s a nice thing. We know that our society, our workforce, our health – our societal health – requires that we have an educated population.”