Georgia quietly increased its cost-of-attendance figure

UGA President Jere Morehead and Athletic Director Greg McGarity talk during a break in basketball game.  (Photo by John Kelley)

UGA President Jere Morehead and athletic airector Greg McGarity talk during a break in basketball game.
(Photo by John Kelley)

ATHENS — There has been a lot of angst among Georgia coaches and fans about the school’s perceived cost-of-attendance imbalance, when it comes to comparisons with its recruiting rivals. If it’s any consolation, here it is:

It was going to be a lot worse before the administration stepped in.

And the administration is reserving the right to step in again if it deems it necessary.

Georgia quietly increased its cost-of-attendance figure last spring, upping it from $1,798 to $3,221 for in-state students and $3,743 for out-of-state students. It’s still in the middle of the pack in the SEC — and well behind the reported out-of-state stipends for Auburn ($5,586) and Tennessee ($5,666) — but it’s enough of an improvement that Georgia football coach Mark Richt lauded university president Jere Morehead on Monday night.

“We’ve been very creative in getting our number to a good spot,” Richt told the crowd at UGA Day in Atlanta.

It’s not exactly clear what went into Georgia’s old cost-of-attendance formula. The one in place for this year includes $2,346 for “miscellaneous living expenses” and $875 for transportation costs. The miscellaneous expenses include estimated costs for items such as clothing, laundry, cleaning supplies and a “communications package.” The transportation cost is an estimate calculated by assuming four trips per semester from Warner Robins, as that’s a mid-point for in-state students, while the out-of-state cost comes from the cost of a round-trip plane ticket to Chicago. The Windy City was chosen for its central location, according to UGA compliance director Jim Booz.

Yes, it’s all very complicated, and you can see how it would be ripe for interpretation by Georgia and other schools.

Georgia Athletics Director Greg McGarity called his school’s new COA an “adjustment made in the number that is more representative of the full cost of attendance.”

Alabama also recently revealed a much higher COA figure: $5,386 for out-of-state students, an increase of 39 percent. An adjustment in the transportation costs led to the increase, reported.

In the case of every school the figures are officially decided by the school’s financial aid offices.

It’s always been there, but has been thrust out of obscurity thanks to this year’s college athletics legislation.

“Now that there was a lot of attention towards this number, I think what it allowed all institutions to do was to take a hard look at that number, and how the number was really generated,” McGarity said. “And I don’t think in the past there has been a deep dive into data gathering, and I think what every institution now has done, is to check the methodology on how those numbers were arrived and make adjustments when necessary, to reflect a more accurate number. I think in the past it was maybe a number that was arbitrary, maybe a guess, without a deep dive into the data into what these deep pockets of expenses were.”

McGarity said UGA, especially Morehead, will be keeping an eye on COA figures around the SEC and the nation, in the hopes it levels out. If not, they’ll revisit Georgia’s next year.

“Our president has been very involved in the whole issue of cost-of-attendance,” McGarity said. “He has been very vocal in his concern about an uneven playing field, about the consequences that has now become evident, even in our conference, about the vast differences.”

Georgia Tech’s cost-of-attendance is even lower than Georgia’s, as McGarity pointed out.

“It’s all over the map,” McGarity said. “There needs to be a level playing field here, some way.”

The wild card in all this, McGarity added, is the role of the federal government. Ostensibly the Department of Education is supposed to be overseeing COA, because the higher it is, the more the federal government has to shell out in school loans. That could lead to some scrutiny.

“It’s a number that has to be justified to the government,” McGarity said. “That’s the big unknown right now, is how involved will the federal government become in an area that’s rapidly gaining attention nationally.”

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