Regents approve budget requests, possible cuts

— Gov. Nathan Deal ordered most state agencies -- including the University System of Georgia -- to submit 2 percent spending cuts that would be implemented if state officials deem the economy has worsened. The system’s 35 colleges would lose about $34.8 million if the cuts are ordered.

While this would be one of the system’s smaller cuts, it follows reductions colleges have made the past several years. It also comes as students are paying 9 percent more in tuition and fees this year.

As the regents and staff began discussing the cuts, a group of about 20 college students started chanting and yelling. The students, members of the activist group Georgia Students for Public Higher Education, screamed "chop from the top" and "no fee hikes, no furloughs." They were immediately ordered to leave the meeting.

Shortly thereafter the regents approved the budget reduction plans. The proposed cuts include:

University of Georgia: Hold off hiring 10 new faculty members to save $1.96 million, though officials warned this would imperil class sizes, graduation rates and student advising. Delay expanding graduate programs and investing in equipment for research to save a combined $1.3 million.

Georgia Tech: Eliminate 25 full-time and 20 part-time positions, defer hiring eight new faculty and reduce the number of graduate teaching assistants to save $1.8 million. Officials said this will lead to larger classes and a decline in the number of course sections offered.

Georgia State University: Cut travel and library purchases by 10 percent to save about $780,000. Eliminate or downgrade about 25 percent of the nearly 155 positions vacated through a voluntary separation program. This would save $1.85 million but officials said it will hurt their ability to offer extra course sections.

The regents also approved the system’s 2013 fiscal year budget request of $1.85 billion, plus an additional $298.3 million for facilities. The request did not take into account the reduction plans submitted by colleges.

The system's request included an additional $111.6 million over this year’s $1.74 billion budget, with $102.6 million to support increased student enrollment, higher health insurance costs and other expenses. While the system typically receives this money annually it did not get the nearly $177 million requested for the current 2012 fiscal year.

The system also requested $7.2 million for medical education programs. The money would expand nursing programs and increase residency slots for graduate medical students.

It’s too soon to know how much the system will get. Deal will present his budget recommendation to lawmakers in January and it will then go through months of negotiation before it is approved.