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Regents budget request includes project for Oconee Campus

The common area in the Student Resource Center on the University of North Georgia's Oconee Campus typically stays busy throughout the day.

ATLANTA — The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) on Sept. 11 adopted a $1.93 billion 2015 fiscal year budget request, along with a separate $235.2 million request for needed facilities that includes $2.5 million to build an annex on the University of North Georgia's Oconee Campus.

The request, which now goes to the Governor's Office, is a net increase of just $48.9 million, or 2.6 percent, over the FY2014 state appropriation to the regents. It will support the board's new strategic plan and its focus on helping more students complete college.

"Our budget request continues to be conservative and reflects our highest priorities – teaching students and meeting key state needs," said University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby. "We are committed to our stewardship and accountability for taxpayer dollars and in ensuring more Georgians have access to and can complete college."

Students work on computers just outside the library inside the Student
Resource Center on the University of North Georgia's Oconee Campus.

UNG's Oconee Campus, which had an unofficial enrollment of 2,500 students the first week of classes, has been at capacity enrollment for the last few years and space has been at a premium. The USG recommends space utilization – a measure of how frequently a space is used and whether it is at full occupancy – at its 31 universities range from 50 percent to 70 percent; the Oconee Campus has been operating at 90 percent.

Most of the 11,816 square feet in the proposed Oconee Campus annex would provide additional instructional space for students, including three classrooms, a language lab, a multi-use science lab, a learning commons for tutoring, and two study rooms. Other spaces would include a restroom, break room, offices and a copy room.

"We are optimistic about our chances for approval. We've made a strong case, based on the numbers, to the Board of Regents," said Dr. Eric Skipper, acting CEO of the Oconee Campus. "The addition will provide greatly needed relief in terms of classroom, tutoring and study space. It will also give us some breathing room in terms of faculty and staff office space."

The USG budget also reflects a focus on the state's need for more physicians with the board's proposal for $3.2 million in new dollars to support graduate medical education. If approved, the new funding would help create critical new residency slots at hospitals around the state.

The USG has secured partnerships with Athens Regional Medical Center, St. Mary's Hospital, Gwinnett Medical Center and South Georgia Medical Center to expand residencies in these communities. USG officials indicated they will continue to seek out additional partnerships with the goal of creating more than 400 new residency slots in Georgia.

The other increases in the USG's budget request are for health insurance, retirement programs, retiree benefits, and maintenance and operations funding for new and existing facilities. These items account for $65.9 million of the new funding request.

However, the request also includes a reduction in state funds of $20.2 million resulting from a 2.7 percent decline in enrollment during the 2012-2013 academic year. Under the current funding formula for the USG, enrollment and the credit hours students take drive the request for the instructional budget.

Changes to the PELL program and stronger USG academic admissions requirements are contributing factors to the enrollment decline said USG Vice Chancellor for Fiscal Affairs John Brown. "However, we believe the Complete College Georgia initiative will have a positive impact on retaining and graduating students in the pipeline," he added.

The enrollment decline was anticipated by USG officials and serves to illustrate the importance of making needed changes in the way higher education operates – a theme Huckaby has expressed since becoming chancellor in 2011.

Many of the changes he has introduced, including consolidation, integrating the development and review of proposed academic programs, building needs and budgets, a space utilization study, a focus on economic development, and online education, reflect what Huckaby has noted are fundamental and necessary to reconfigure higher education's structure in a new normal of tighter resources and higher expectations.

"We must be responsive to this new environment and proactive in making changes that will enable us to better serve our students and the state," Huckaby said.

The board's fiscal year 2015 capital request includes $14.9 million for equipment for three projects, $68.8 million for construction of two projects, $5.2 million for four planning projects, $40.1 million for 11 small capital projects and $2 million for airplane replacement. In addition, funding is requested for $80 million in bond funds for Major Repairs and Renovations. The total amount requested is $211 million.

The request also includes $24.2 million in state funding the Georgia Public Library System, which includes funding to construct twelve library projects and funding for computer replacement and funding to support major repairs and renovations.

A full listing of requested capital projects will be available online at:

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