ATLANTA -- A newspaper investigation has found that the University System of Georgia has been on a spending spree as billions have been cut from the state's budget during the recession.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the state's 35-campus public university system has gone from $5.4 billion in spending in 2007 to a projected $7 billion this year. The spending includes lavish buildings, high-price administrators and top-of-the-line technology, as well as new football teams and dozens of new academic programs.
That's at the same time that tuition has gone up by 50 percent since 2008, and students are paying 87 percent more in fees. Still, state support is lagging: per-pupil funding is at 1994 levels this year.
University system administrators say they have cut back but have to raise tuition to keep up with the cost of delivering a college education.
Former Chancellor Erroll Davis, who retired June 30, said the system has cut hundreds of millions of dollars and is spending the money it has left wisely.
But current Chancellor Hank Huckaby, a former state lawmaker, said there is "growing consensus" among lawmakers that the system needs to examine how it's spending money.
The newspaper's probe found:
- Pay to college deans, vice presidents and presidents increased 30 percent from 2007 to 2010. That's faster growth than the pay for professors.
- Institutions have added more than 40,000 beds in student housing since 1991, some with flat-screen HDTVs and apartment-style layouts.
- As the state technical college system closed down multiple campuses and combined operations, the university system spent $200 million starting up Georgia Gwinnett College, the first new four-year college in more than a century in Georgia.
- Two campuses -- Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University -- are adding football teams that cost millions in student-approved fees.
- A decade ago, students paid just 25 percent of their education, while the state paid the rest. Now, students pay 46 percent of the cost.
The state Board of Regents gives lump sums of funding to Georgia's colleges and lets each administration decide how to spend it. By far, the most expensive cost is paying salaries for the system's 40,000 employees.
The system expects to enroll 400,000 students in the next decade.
Huckaby said he aims to be "creative and responsive" rather than simply increasing tuition to cover the growing cost of educating that many students.
He said he wants to limit the number of new building requests, while at the same time charging students less for classes held at night or on weekends. He said state funding must be increased, but the system can find ways to cut spending in the meantime.
"The growing consensus is we've got to step back and look at what we're doing and what it's costing," Huckaby told the newspaper.