Student academic fees to increase due to budget cuts

Tuesday, the Board of Regents (BoR) for the University System of Georgia (USG) voted unanimously to double the mandatory academic excellence fee introduced last year to a total of $200. The BoR instituted the fee last Jan. due to the financial crisis. Also, the BoR voted to reduce the state funded budget for the Institute by an additional 2%, bringing the total percentage of budget cuts to 8% for the 2010 fiscal year.

“Clearly I’m not very pleased with having to see another increase in fees especially mid-year, but after learning more about how this fee will be implemented and why, I think that it is rather justified,” said Alina Staskevicius, undergraduate student body president.

The fee was first imposed in order to cover budget shortfalls for the last fiscal year since tuition rates could not be changed due to the Guaranteed Tuition Plan (commonly referred to as Fixed for Four).

The BoR voted to end the plan in April, barring students entering the USG in the current fiscal year from participating in the program.

The BoR has set an expiration date for the mandatory excellence fee in 2012. However, this date coincides with the final implementation date for the Guaranteed Tuition Plan, and signals that the USG may be willing to consider increasing tuition rates in the future if the budget fails to improve.

“I think that because students are only absorbing 14% of the impact from this 8% cut it’s not asking for too much from the students. With faculty furloughs and the elimination of positions they’ve accounted for roughly 60% of those cuts,however, obviously it puts students in a very hard position because of the fact that this fee is not being covered by the HOPE scholarship or other scholarships,” Staskevicius said.

The BoR also approved a moratorium on mandatory student fee increases for fiscal year 2011, with the exception of fees for public and private venture projects demonstrating significant student support.

The latter clause was added following a letter sent to USG Chancellor Erroll B. Davis by the SGA Executive Presidents from Tech and the University of Georgia. The letter commended the BoR for attempting to cover the budget shortfalls without student fee increases, but also asked a moratorium not be placed on all other mandatory student fees.

“Because of the fact that this $100 is coming in and is meant to compensate for state budget cuts, we want that money to go where the state’s money would have been, which is in academic departments. Having placed a moratorium on all student fees would have put us in a very hard position of having to choose between bigger classes and say, our health center,” Staskevicius said.

The Institute will have control of how the mandatory academic excellence fee will be spent. According to Staskevicius, the possibility of overcoming the moratorium removes the burden on Tech to fund all campus resources, including non-academic entities using the mandatory academic excellence fee. This also means, however, that the Institute could raise other mandatory fees such as the athletic fee, student activity fee or rec-center fee. Doing so would require the approval of the Institute-wide committee on mandatory student fees and the Institute president, before being considered by the BoR for approval.

The increase in the mandatory academic excellence fee also applies to graduate students. According to Linda Harley, graduate student body president, the mandatory fee unfairly penalizes graduate students because they have never benefited from the Guaranteed Tuition Plan.

“If you run the numbers like I have then you will see that tuition on campus is very low but the out of pocket costs for graduate students is very high. In my mind that makes the argument for a tuition increase and not a fee increase,” Harley said.

Graduate students will not be able to pay for the mandatory excellence fee through stipends, grants or scholarships, and will have to pay the cost out of pocket. Harley said that another important difference between undergraduates and graduates is the fact that graduate students are required to have health insurance, and this expense alone accounts for a significant portion of a graduate student’s semester expenditure. She said that having to pay an additional mandatory student fee only increases the financial burden placed on graduate students.

When asked about the clause stating that the moratorium on other mandatory fees may be waived under special circumstances, Harley said, “We felt that the $100 fee should be for the purpose of making sure the quality of academics stays high on campus. That way the faculty are retained and the infrastructure for academic departments are not messed with.”