Regents axe Fixed for Four

In the midst of the nationwide economic crisis, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) has set next year’s tuition rates and determined the future of Fixed for Four.

This past Friday, Erroll Davis, chancellor of the USG, held an information session and discussion with Student Government Association representatives from schools across the state. Nick Wellkamp, undergraduate student body president, and Aaron Fowler, graduate student body president were in attendance at the meeting. Usha Ramachandran, vice chancellor for Fiscal Affairs, gave a presentation on the USG’s overall budget situation. It showed that the state tax revenue for this fiscal year had dropped eight percent from last year and proposed a three-tiered budget reduction plan.

“We started out this year with a five percent budget cut in the entire university system, which then [increased steadily] to 10.5 percent. Tech has the same percentage cuts,” Wellkamp said.

Included in the budget reduction plan for next year is an 11.6 percent cut in institutional budgets across the state. Despite this cut in institutional budgets, the USG enrollment has steadily increased in the past five years, a trend that is likely to continue.

“With the economy in its current situation, it’s natural that more students will want to take advantage of in-state tuition and the HOPE scholarship,” Fowler said. “That’s why we’re seeing these increases in enrollment.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board approved a Fiscal Year 2010 budget of $2.17 billion, which includes federal stimulus funds of $92.6 million. Additional funds in state appropriations include $79.4 million for enrollment increases.

In respect to Fixed for Four, the Regents decided that no changes will be made to the tuition paid by currently enrolled students. However, incoming students starting this fall will no longer be able to take advantage of the guaranteed tuition plan. Fall 2009 freshmen will pay tuition at the same per-credit-hour rate charged last year but will be subject to future tuition raises. In addition, the Regents changed the requirements for the full-time tuition rate.

“The full-time tuition rate [is set] at 15 credit hours instead of the current 12 hours, meaning that for the first time, students not on the guarantee would pay the per-credit-hour rate for all classes taken up to 15 credit hours,” stated in a press release by the USG.

“We’re glad to see the end of Fixed for Four,” Wellkamp said. “It has placed a major constraint on institutional funding and how well we can adjust to economic shocks. Contrary to popular belief, it does not actually save students money because they simply average the projected tuition over four years, so you end up paying more in the beginning and less in the end.”

To date, the University System of Georgia has already taken significant action to cut costs and raise more revenue this year by reducing operational costs, cutting administrative positions and terminating academic programs. One of the more controversial actions was the $100 mandatory fee for students.

“After that decision, SGA members protested because there had been no prior warning and no discussion with the students as to whether this was the best way to increase revenue,” Wellkamp said.

“For graduate students, the fee is a burden because we don’t have to pay tuition, so it’s coming out of our stipend,” Fowler said. “I raised this question in the meeting on Friday and suggested that the raise be included in tuition instead.”

The Regents decided Tuesday that all students will continue to pay the mandatory institutional fee in order to meet rising enrollment with diminished resources.