Photo by Sho Kitamura

In 2009, the Georgia Board of Regents (BoR) put in place a fee on the Graduate Student Body to “maintain broad access and preserve academic quality across the system”. The Special Institutional Fee (SIF) was initially a $100 fee pushed upon graduate students and viewed as a necessity in order to compensate for the never before seen levels of budget cuts caused by the economic crisis.

The BoR voted over the years. which has both lowered the fee to $94 in 2010 due to fee re-allocations as well as raising it to its current level of $544 since 2012. Now in 2013, another vote is coming up in mid-April. This vote has the possibility of raising the fee again, but more importantly transferring this fee into the tuition rate. Because the SIF is not covered by the graduate students’ scholarships, many pay for the fee through their stipends, which are meant to be used for living expenses such as rent, food and clothing.

“In time, we hope they’ll start transitioning the special institutional fee into tuition.”

“It’s been an education process with the regents and really making them aware of the problems we’re facing. In time, we hope they’ll start transferring the special institutional fee into tuition. Even President Peterson has been asking for this. He supports our position on this for the grad students, and at least starting in transferring the graduate special institutional fee into tuition,” said Michael Kirka, Graduate Student Body President.

The changes voted on concerning the SIF stem back from problems the state has had in funding the HOPE Scholarship for undergraduate students.

“The increases to tuition across the University System needed to offset massive cuts to its state appropriation would have bankrupted HOPE,” said James Black, the former Graduate Student Body President. “The Regents needed a way of raising tuition-like revenue for schools without bankrupting HOPE. They thought the solution was a massive increase to the SIF.”

Efforts from Graduate SGA in past years have continuously aimed to educate the BoR on the differences between graduate and undergraduate students at research universities like Tech. The fee they put in place is a strain for graduate students as it must be paid for basically out-of-pocket since it comes out of the living stipend these students receive which is averaged out at a yearly pre-tax total of $20,000. If this fee was rolled back into tuition, it could be covered by research grants or departments taking an extra burden off of many graduate students.

The rate is institution specific with Tech standing alone at the current $544 rate vs. the $450 rate that UGA..

President Peterson and the Tech administration have included a $50 transfer from the SIF to graduate tuition in their proposal for tuition and fee changes for FY 2013. With that proposal, concerns still come from how the Board of Regents will interpret the administrations’ attempts at change.

The rate for the SIF is institution specific. While Tech’s rate is at $544, UGA has a lower rate of $450. Other Georgian public universities have even lower rates for the SIF. The BoR has made it clear that they believe changes to the SIF should be made system wide and not just for a specific institution.

“Everyone’s displeased about the fee, but if they’re really displeased they have to voice their opinions and concerns about this instead of it being just us inside the boardroom,” Kirka said.