Last week SGA approved a resolution that endorsed the reversal of the Guaranteed Tuition Plan, commonly referred to as “Fixed for Four.” SGA stated that the recent economic crisis revealed weakness with the Fixed for Four program and is an anti-market policy that hurts the quality and competitiveness of the university education in Georgia.
Fixed for Four was enacted by the University System of Georgia (USG) in 2006 as part of an effort to address the uncertainty faced by students and their families about growing tuition costs.
Under Fixed for Four, tuition rates for in-state students would be set for four years, setting expectations and creating predictability for students and their families. Additionally, Fixed for Four was also intended to be used as a tool to motivate students to graduate in four years, before their fixed tuition rates expired.
Since its inception, Fixed for Four has seemed to garner more complaints than praise, with those criticisms rising since Georgia’s economy hit the skids along with the rest of the world.
“Fixed for Four has become a major constraint for Georgia Tech as it adjusts to this economic climate and as a result we’ve seen the Board of Regents willing to go around it by tacking on this $100 fee,” said Nick Wellkamp, undergraduate student body president. He also added that if the problem is not addressed, students may see higher fees in the future.
“Any fee that goes into the Institute’s budget and which the administration has discretionary control over is better to be labeled as tuition,” Wellkamp said. Under Fixed for Four, tuition increases are not possible.
The idea of establishing a system to provide predictability to tuition costs has found support around the country as prices to attend university have steadily risen in the last few decades. Fixed for Four’s major benefit was that it provided this financial certainty for students accepted to Georgia’s universities.
In a traditional non-fixed tuition plan, universities ask students to pay tuition without specifying the rate for successive years. With the Fixed for Four Plan, universities project the tuition rate for four years and locks in the average rate for incoming students. To come up with this average, universities make estimations of inflation, cost increases and future level of state support, all of which carry an element of uncertainty.
With the ability to adjust tuition for incoming students only, sudden economic downturns force these universities to scramble for other sources of revenue, such as fees. “A lot of people perceive Fixed for Four as saving them money, and that’s simply not true. It really ends up hurting us more than it helps us,” Wellkamp said.
During a meeting in late January with Susan Herbst, USG vice chancellor of Academic Affairs, members of the SGA voiced issues with Fixed for Four’s assumption that students will graduate within four years.
At Tech, many students normally take five years to graduate or use their semesters to study abroad, participate in an internship or co-op. Students who entered Tech in fall 2006 and later can expect their tuition rates to increase dramatically once they enter their fifth year. “Even though I’m not happy that there will be a price increase my fifth year, at least I know ahead of time so I can prepare for it,” said Hubert Pan, second-year CHBE major.
This issue is being actively discussed in the Board of Regents and in the Education Appropriation meetings in the State legislature. “We felt that it was important to get this resolution out for the Board of Regents and the Chancellor and let them know our opinion,” Wellkamp said. SGA has started investigating alternatives to Fixed for Four and hopes to put forward a resolution later this semester discussing alternatives to Fixed for Four.
“Being informed about this now, I think that it would definitely be a good time to reverse the program. If this issue was brought to light in front of more people, I think they will agree,” said Alex Harkey, a third-year MGT major.
Most importantly, this economic squeeze will affect the Institute’s ability to continue to be a global leader in science and technology. “Affordability is one of the great things about Tech, but in the long term interests of students its quality should not suffer. The quality of Tech’s education affects the quality of your degree,” Wellkamp said. He cited the decrease in faculty to staff ratio as a result of decreasing revenue.
“I definitely want Tech to retain its competitiveness. I put in a lot of hard work into my classes and I want that to be reflected in my degree. If that means that I have to pay a little more, that’s fine,” said Chris Haverly, first-year CHBE major.