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Monday, July 25, 2011 - 9:53am

University System Defends Spending

Georgia’s colleges and universities will soon welcome students for fall classes. And there's been higher spending by the System, in the face of budget cuts and a still tough economy.

System officials say state cuts to its budget have necessitated raising tuition rates by nearly 50 percent in the last few years. And student fees have spiked also.

But the System’s increased spending by more than a billion to $7 billion on campus improvements like new buildings and dorms. University System spokesman John Millsaps says that's been needed.

“People expect us to improve graduation retention rates which we’re focusing on. One of the most surefire ways of doing that is to make sure students are engaged in campus - and one way to do that is to make sure they live on campus.”

Increased expenditures have also included higher salaries for some college and university administrators.

Jim Butterworth, chair of the state Senate Higher Education Committee, says expenditures like that are fair game to be re-examined.

“When our state budget is declining the way that it has, for other individuals to get 10-15-20 percent increases in their individual salaries, that should be scrutinized, and I’ll take the lead in scrutinizing those.”

But the Demorest Republican says also to be fair, the System’s new chancellor should be allowed time to settle-in before explaining budget expenditures to state lawmakers. And he says Hank Huckaby’s experience as a state lawmaker will serve him well in future dealings with the Legislature.