The following column was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was written by Berry President Stephen R. Briggs in response to the proposed elimination of the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant.
Short-sighted tuition grant cuts
In the midst of a fiscal meltdown, why would state leaders eliminate the most cost-effective program for helping Georgia students to attend and graduate from a four-year college?
For more than three decades, the Tuition Equalization Grant has been a vital source of financial aid for Georgia residents choosing to attend one of the state's private colleges or universities. In 2008, this program provided $1,200 in annual assistance for Georgians attending these institutions. In 2009, the grant was reduced by nearly 20 percent, to $975. In the administration's proposed budget for next year, this important source of financial aid is eliminated entirely.
Elimination of the TEG would mean that 29,000 Georgia college students will no longer receive any taxpayer-supported tuition assistance from the state, despite the taxes paid by their families that support higher education. For thousands of these students, the TEG is the only source of state-supported assistance available.
Eliminating the TEG for 29,000 Georgia taxpayers makes no economic sense. This action pushes students to choose public institutions which are already overcrowded and underfunded. Students who opt for state institutions will cost Georgia taxpayers more than $7,000 in state funding on average, significantly more than the per-student cost savings gained by the elimination of TEG. Even in the near future, eliminating TEG is likely to increase state costs and undercut efforts to improve Georgia's graduation rates.
One state official called the TEG a luxury that was "great while we could afford it, but not deemed a necessity." Since when did improving college graduation rates become a luxury rather than a state and national priority? It is not a luxury to support students at state institutions with a tax-based allocation of $7,000 per year, nor is it extravagant to support students at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech for twice that amount. And certainly, it is far from a luxury to support students at Georgia's private colleges with a TEG of $1,000.
Perhaps some state leaders believe that TEG students can afford to pay another $1,000 because they attend private institutions and come from more affluent families. In truth, TEG students come from every corner of the state and are from families whose average income is less than that of students attending the state's four-year colleges and universities. Most remain here after graduating from college: they enter Georgia's work force, strengthen our communities, build our economy and pay taxes.
These students choose to shoulder a large portion of the cost of college because they seek the quality and focused learning environment of a private college. As nonprofit institutions, the private colleges themselves invest substantially in these students through fund-raising and receive no budgetary assistance from the state university system.
Every student who chooses a private college reduces the need for expensive new buildings at public institutions. It does not take a college degree to see that the $1,000 TEG builds a stronger higher education system for all Georgians in a time of fiscal constraint.
— Stephen R. Briggs is president of Berry College in Rome