ATLANTA – Parents and college students got a break on tuition Tuesday when the University System of Georgia’ chancellor announced a one-year freeze as lawmakers are considering legislation to cap tuition at the inflation rate.

House Majority Leader Matt Ramsey is sponsoring a change to the state constitution to limit tuition increases to no more than the inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price Index. However, if there’s a recession, a decline in state appropriations or if the school merges or changes its mission, then a pair of legislative committees can vote to allow a bigger increase.

Ramsey said he and his cosponsors introduced House Resolution 1326 because they’ve have heard many complaints from parents upset about jarring tuition increases.

“Parents save and save with a plan for their kids to go to college,” said Ramsey, R-Peachtree City. “They can’t keep up with it. So this is a reasonable and common-sense restraint on the growth of tuition in Georgia.”

Last year the Board of Regents raised costs by 9 percent at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and two other schools, by 5.5 percent at Augusta University and Georgia State University, 5 percent at the University of North Georgia and by 2.5 percent at most of the other schools. Meanwhile, the CPI registered a 0.7 percent inflation rate for 2015.

University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby said in a news release that he’s heard the complaints as well.

“We have heard from students, parents and legislators regarding year-over-year tuition increases citing concerns about the rising costs of a college education in Georgia,” he said. “We recognize and share their concerns about college affordability. Today’s announcement demonstrates we are listening to students, their families and legislators and taking meaningful action.”

System lobbyist Charlie Sutlive said the board hasn’t taken a position on the tuition cap.

It hasn’t announced any meetings since Jan. 19, before Ramsey introduced his proposal. No discussion of tuition was on the public agenda at that meeting, and tuition decisions are usually made in April after the governor has signed the final budget when the appropriation for the coming year is known.

Announcing no increase in February shows the University System is eager to head off legislation that’s a serious threat to changing how it does business. Besides Ramsey, cosponsors include the chairmen of the committees that decide the budget for public colleges and policy laws dealing with them.

The legislation is in the House Rules Committee where it could be quickly scheduled for a vote before the full House anytime.

University System staff often tell the regents the need for such high increases is because Georgia charges significantly less than comparable schools and that the bargain tarnishes the prestige. Besides, they say, UGA and Tech turn away thousands of qualified applicants each year, proving the pace of tuition hikes isn’t dampening demand.

Ramsey dismisses both arguments. Public colleges here are subsidized by taxpayers, the lottery and low-interest student loans, the sponsor said.

“It’s not a free market,” he said.

Plus, other states have instituted laws restraining tuition increases without hurting their academic reputations, according to Ramsey.

“The suggestion that it’s going to cause us to lose a competitive foothold with other states, the facts just don’t bear that out,” he said.

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