Fee increase hurts graduate student budgets

Lost in the initial student outcry over the mandatory student fee increase approved by the Board of Regents late last semester, the voices of Tech’s graduate students have quickly risen in volume to oppose the fee. Although graduate students who work as research assistants (GRA) and teaching assistants (TA) receive waivers for their tuition and monthly stipends, these stipends top out at no more than $2000 and can be as low as $550.

“If the [university] fees go any higher, how much more is this going to take away from graduate students’ [already tight budgets]?” asked Aaron Fowler, graduate student body president. Like all other students around Georgia, members of the graduate Student Government Association (SGA) were unable to voice their input on the Regents’ vote to increase student fees.

“I think the timing was terrible. It was announced at a time when it was basically too late for students to register complaints about it,” said David Roberts, president of the graduate student council for the College of Computing (COC). “I do not believe the Board of Regents was unaware of the budget issues that motivated the fee earlier in the year. It should have been handled better.”

According to Fowler, the first instance that Tech’s graduate students had to express their concerns to the Regents came in January, when Susan Herbst, executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, sat down with members of SGA and representatives of other state universities. Fowler called this effort by the Regents to respond to complaints about the fee slow and inexcusable.

Unlike tuition increases that are covered by the waivers given to GRAs and TAs, student fee increases are generally paid out of pocket by graduate students. Aside from the regular fees, health insurance and parking expenses also present financial burdens.

For many of these students, the stipend is used to pay living expenses and necessities. At the top of the heap, some of the computer science Ph.D. students make a little more than $2100 a month, but at the bottom, masters students in architecture can make as little as $550 a month.

While Fowler admits that the $100 isn’t a deal breaker and doesn’t have students struggling to make the payments, higher fee amounts will quickly present a serious financial obstacle.

He hopes to see changes made to the way the Regents administer fees in the future. For graduate students, Fowler believes that any future fee increases should be treated as tuition increases. This way, tuition waivers will cover any price hikes.

“A first-year Ph.D. student in the [COC] that lives on campus and chooses to pay their fees and housing via payroll deduction will only receive $100 per month after taxes. That amount is simply not enough [to live on],” Roberts said.