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A familiar sight, no familiar faces: Stairs often crowded with fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the Dawg Walk sit empty on Saturday, April 18, 2020, on the University of Georgia's campus in Athens, Georgia. The annual G-Day football scrimmage was canceled this year due to complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo/Julian Alexander, jalexander@randb.com)

It’s no secret that the cost of attending college has been rising. According to the nonpartisan research group Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, cuts in state higher education funding have resulted in students paying a higher share of costs. CBPP analysis of data from the College Board found that published tuition is up over 60% in Georgia since the 2008 school year. High costs can serve as a barrier to lower-income students.

To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has the University of Georgia to move classes online, meaning much of the expensive amenities and facilities we paid for are sitting unused. The university should take this opportunity to examine how it can cut unnecessary expenditures to make college more affordable in the future.

To UGA’s credit, it has refunded students for some services such as meal plans and dormitories.

Still, issues remain. For only the third time in 10 years, The University System of Georgia proposed no tuition increase for UGA or any other USG schools next fiscal year. After accounting for inflation, tuition will probably be a little cheaper in real dollars. However, considering facilities may be left unused if the fall semester is online and that many Georgians are now unemployed, this cost feels rather high.

In truth, there are plenty of areas where UGA could probably make cuts and not lose much educational value.

Some buildings, for instance, are very expensive. Phase I construction of UGA’s multimillion-dollar Interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Math research building has a budget of $79 million alone. That’s far from the only example. Several other university construction projects carry high price tags. Facilities are important to fostering a good learning environment, but the university needs to carefully oversee all costs.

The university could also encourage online classes when practical. Not all classes work in an online setting, but a greater online focus could help UGA cut down on maintenance and housing costs.

Raising costs to pay for needless spending is impractical and immoral. To afford college in the face of rising costs, many in-state students rely on the HOPE scholarship. However, the HOPE scholarship is regressive because it’s funded by the lottery, which takes a disproportionate share of lower-income players’ income.

It's also generally benefiting those who were already well off. According to a New York Times analysis of anonymous tax record data collected by Opportunity Insights, UGA students' average income percentile is 76th, and only 3.8% of students come from the lowest quintile. In essence, the lower class is subsidizing the luxurious lives upper- and middle-class students enjoy.

As the state's flagship institution, part of UGA's mission is to serve Georgia. Unnecessary spending that raises costs and prevents lower-income students from attending is counterproductive to that goal.

After making cuts, college life might not be quite as grand as it was before, but that’s a small price to pay for making education more affordable for everyone.

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