ATLANTA – Lawmakers who will write next year’s state budget questioned the University System of Georgia chancellor Tuesday about last year’s 9-percent tuition increases.

The system’s Board of Regents set tuition after the legislature had voted on the annual budget and gone home. So Tuesday’s budget presentation was the first time Chancellor Hank Huckaby had faced lawmakers since the board hiked students’ costs for attending the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Huckaby brought up the subject by mentioning the complaints he had heard.

“That is not likely to happen again, and there were some specific circumstances for that,” he said of the increase size.

The rest of the 20 colleges and universities averaged a 2-percent increase.

After the system’s chief financial officer explained why Gov. Nathan Deal is recommending a $44 million increase in ongoing funding as well as $154 million in bonds for building construction, the question period kept coming back around to the tuition hike.

“You said there was a unique circumstance there. Could you address that?” asked Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta.

Huckaby said higher tuition is needed for pay raises.

“If we don’t increase pay for our best faculty, we’re going to lose our best faculty. If we lose our best faculty, we’re not going to make our obligation to have an educated and prepared workforce,” he said.

He added that Georgia is one of just four states with two top-rated public universities, thanks in large part to the quality of the faculty.

Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, pressed him on that.

“Getting back to the gentleman’s question about the 9-percent increase, and you said was due to special circumstances. When you elaborated, you said it was because Georgia and Georgia Tech were the tops in the nation,” Martin said. “Surely, we’re not paying more just because they’re good.”

Huckaby replied that Tech’s recruitment of high-profile scientists is expensive.

At the time of the tuition vote by the regents, system staff said the two universities charged significantly less than similar schools and undervalued their quality. And, applications for both have remained strong despite significant, repeated tuition increases.

Deal is recommending funds to allow a 3-percent raise at all of the universities, which will be awarded based on merit.

The other money Deal is proposing is based on formulas tied to enrollment growth and for building maintenance tied to the total square footage in the system.

Deal also recommends $100 million in bond funds for construction of small projects that he didn’t earmark for specific buildings. The appropriations committees will decide how that money is divvied up when they vote on the entire budget for the state.

Once Deal signs it into law this spring, the regents will decide on tuition increases again.

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