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University system could face more cuts

The University System of Georgia may have to consider making drastic budget cuts if state legislators deem it necessary due to poor economic conditions, the system’s top official announced Monday.

The university system’s governing body, the Board of Regents, released a document detailing how the state’s public colleges, universities and affiliate programs would reduce their collective annual budgets by $300 million, if necessary.

In a letter to the chairmen of both the House and Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittees on Higher Education, Chancellor Erroll B. Davis stressed the list of cuts were not recommendations but rather a response to a request made by legislators during a joint legislative subcommittee meeting held last week.

However, while the list of cuts is marked as being “for discussion only,” and subject to further consideration by the Board of Regents, they would have a broad impact across the state, including in Decatur County, if they were implemented.

Local impact of possible cuts

Among the list of cuts that could be considered at the university system’s flagship, the University of Georgia, which would affect Decatur County:

Elimination of all Georgia 4-H programs, which provide educational youth development to more than 156,000 children and youth;

Closing of half of UGA’s County Extension offices, or 79 offices;

Closing of the Attapulgus Research Farm.

Even more troubling are the approximately $1.56 million in cuts that could be necessary at Bainbridge College, if legislators cut the university system’s budget by an additional $300 million.

Bainbridge College’s thriving health-related programs would be scaled back significantly. The paramedic/EMT training program would be eliminated, the LPN program’s annual intake would be decreased from 120 students to just 50, the Associate Degree in Nursing program would be capped at 40 students and part-time clinical instructors would be let go.

Other possible cuts listed in the draft document, which would directly affect students, are elimination of the college’s Continuing Education program, its drafting program, reduction of the library’s open hours and elimination of the college’s advising center. The budget for supplies and materials at both the Main Campus and Early County Campus would be cut back.

What happens next

In his letter, Chancellor Davis said the plans “should be viewed as informational and not as recommendations for several reasons.” He said he hoped the $300 million in additional cuts to the university system, on top of the $265 million in cuts already proposed as part of the state’s FY 2011 budget, would not be necessary.

“We strongly believe that cuts of this nature, if implemented, would severely compromise our ability to provide the educated populace that is necessary for the continued success of this state,” Davis said. “Such a reduction would dramatically and negatively alter a University System in which the people of this state have invested so much; a reduction of this size is not in the best interest of Georgia and its future economic development.”

Davis noted the Board of Regents, and not legislators, will have the final say on which cuts are made, after the governor and the Legislature have made their final appropriation of money to the university system.

“You’re going to see a combination of some more cuts and probably some tuition increases,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, as saying.