Increasing the cost of health benefits to employees and a new fee on students are two ways the University System of Georgia is dealing with a worsening state budget crisis.
The actions will impact Columbus State University and 34 other state institutions. The Board of Regents, which governs the system, made the decisions in a called meeting Wednesday morning.
Beginning Jan. 1, employees will have to pay 30 percent of the health insurance costs rather than the current 25 percent. Employees enrolled in the benefits will see monthly premiums increase between $17 and $65 per month, depending on the plan. This will save the system about $8 million next year.
Students will take a hit, too.
A one-time of $75 per student will be charged next semester at CSU. Students at research institutions such as Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State will pay a $100 one-time fee.
This is to offset nearly $20 million in budget cuts to the state schools, University System Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. said. Columbus State President Tim Mescon said the move is difficult necessary.
“We’ve communicated frequently with our students all along the way,” Mescon said. “We have tried to focus on the need to maintain quality programs and the value of a state education in Georgia.”
Because of the fee increase, a fulltime undergraduate student taking a beginning 12-hour course load at Columbus State spring semester will pay $1,961 in tuition and mandatory fees. This is for students who entered the university this academic year.
The one-semester fee will not be covered by the HOPE Scholarship, CSU spokesman John Lester said.
CSU tuition is still a bargain, Mescon said.
“I know nobody wants to hear that, but within the state it’s a bargain and across the Southern region, it’s a bigger bargain,” Mescon said. “I know that’s difficult for people to embrace when they are writing a bigger check. But our commitment and responsibility is to make sure we maintain that value.”
Mescon is hopeful the latest move will help avoid job cuts among the university’s more than 800 employees. One of the things that was not cut was employee raises scheduled for Jan. 1.
“We are excited that we preserved that,” Mescon said.
The system will also defer maintenance that is expected to save another $12 million.
The University System had previously cut 6 percent from its budget. The new cuts bring the total to 8 percent.
These are difficult decisions, Davis said.
“The board’s action today will protect the System’s core teaching mission and maintain academic quality,” Davis said. Mescon said he is not sure where the cuts will stop.
“I don’t know that I am smart enough to know that,” he said. “We are all closely watching state revenue collections month to month.”