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Thursday, June 2, 2011 - 9:24am

Tech Schools Trim Budgets Amid High Enrollment

Georgia’s technical colleges have experienced “historically high” enrollment for well over a year. But it hasn't translated into more money for the System’s budget.

Enrollment in the Technical College System has spiked by nearly 30 percent in the last year, to more than 190,000 students. It’s been driven by the bad economy, with more people taking classes to sharpen or learn new skills.

But while the state’s funding formula is supposed to return money to the schools for higher enrollment, it can’t.

Technical College System commissioner Ron Jackson says the state’s own budget woes meant his schools didn’t get more than $60 million.

“...which would have helped us pay for that growth and pay for the instructors and everyone that we had to hire to meet the demand. But the state doesn’t have that $62 million. We’re in the same boat as K-12 and the University System.”

Jackson says the System operates on an overall budget of $660 million--of which $309 million are state funds. Two years ago he says, the state's portion of funding was $389 million.

Jackson says all of the System’s 26 schools are making some level of cuts, combined with slight tuition increases. In order to keep up with what he calls "mega capacity", schools have hired many part-time professors and faculty members. Those numbers will have to be scaled-back soon.

“For a short term, we can manage it. But we’ve got to begin to contract that. And some of the things the colleges are doing individually is based upon those projections on what we expect the enrollment decline to be.”

Looking ahead, Jackson projects enrollment in the next year will likely stay the same or go down slightly. Reasons he says are changes to the HOPE scholarship program, and more students and graduates finding jobs as the economy begins to find its footing.

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