The Graduate SGA Executive Board presented their 2011 white paper to members of the administration last Thursday, March 31 discussing four issues they deemed most pressing to the graduate student body. The white paper summarized these concerns, outlining the Board’s position on fee increases, student health insurance, professional development and improvement of the graduate community.
Reflecting widespread student concern, fees were the first issue on the agenda. Citing a Senate Resolution and an Executive Letter, Graduate Student Body President Anthony Baldridge highlighted comparisons to student fees at peer institutions. Baldridge also expressed skepticism about the limited transparency and accountability of the Academic Excellence Fee.
In response, Institute President G. P. “Bud” Peterson defended its necessity.
“I can’t tell you that your $196 Academic Excellence Fee goes to support specific initiatives,” Peterson said. “I can tell you that this combination of funds goes to support what we’re doing. We take all the money that we get, independent of the source, and we determine what we need to do—what we want to do—as an institution.”
Agreement was reached on several fee-related issues listed by the paper. In line with one recommendation, President Peterson voiced support for efforts to migrate the Academic Excellence Fee into tuition.
“I think it’s probably a mistake to differentiate between fees and tuition,” Peterson said. “We hope to roll [the Academic Excellence Fee] into tuition because of the impact it has on HOPE Scholarship recipients and because of the impact it has on graduate students.”
Tuition—but not fees—are covered by graduate stipends and the HOPE Scholarship.
Another issue discussed was graduate health insurance.
One of the first topics addressed was the establishment of a dedicated, on-campus representative to assist students with health insurance needs.
“What a large number of students have requested is that we have someone all the time—40 hours a week—available to the students that has a relationship with the provider,” said Brandon Polander, graduate vice-president of health services.
Receiving the suggestion favorably, Provost Rafael Bras responded that some progress had already been made on the hiring process and the process was progressing incredibly smoothly.
Another important issue that was heavily discussed was the acquisition of a new student insurance plan. To demonstrate the need for such a change, the white paper outlined several key differences between Tech and other institutions in the USG. For instance, while Tech has a dedicated fee that sustains the student health center and pays down health care costs, some institutions bill student insurance to fund their health care centers. This raises the premiums of students here at Tech.
As a result, members of the administration expressed support for the adoption of an insurance plan independent from other USG institutions. In particular, President Peterson recognized relevant differences between Tech and other institutions.
After the meeting, members of the Executive Board expressed confidence about progress made with the administration.
As for health insurance, “the problem we had last year was that there was very little communication between the Regents and Georgia Tech,” Polander said. “We’re going to circumvent that problem by writing the insurance for ourselves. We’re going to seek out a provider and decide the policies for Tech only, by Tech students only.”
Baldridge also made reference to last year’s white paper meeting, which both he and Polander attended.
“A lot of the conclusions made today were not even mentioned in last year’s meeting, and the similar spirit of the conclusions was not the same as last year’s,” Baldridge said. “I’m very optimistic about the outcome of this meeting.”