Regents choose bottom line over students

The economy is bad, so it’s time to start fleecing the students. At least, the Board of Regents seems to think so. This Tuesday, our lovely, governor-appointed (meaning we can’t kick them out of office by a majority vote) Regents unanimously decided to discontinue “Fixed for Four,” a policy that was enacted in 2006 to protect students from tuition hikes.

“Fixed for Four” essentially guaranteed that freshmen entering Georgia public colleges and universities would pay the same tuition for four years. While the powers-that-be no doubt set this tuition rate by forecasting what tuition would cost over four years and then averaged it out—so that a freshman covered by the policy started out paying more than one who was not—the fixed tuition policy was still a noble effort towards reducing the skyrocketing cost of higher education.

It also showed a remarkable amount of foresight and concern for students on the part of the Regents, since the policy was meant to buffer students from budget shortfalls that could necessitate increasing tuition. Plus, having a guaranteed fixed tuition rate helped many students better plan how they would pay for college, considering they knew exactly how much they needed to spend on education for the next four years.

It also goes without saying what a huge relief it must have been to students who are already maxed out on college loans and work-study to know that they wouldn’t have to pay more for their tuition every year. This is why it’s so disappointing to see the Regents discontinue the policy. Granted, the Board could not have possibly foreseen that the U.S. would be mired in a catastrophic economic meltdown when they first voted “Fixed for Four” into existence.

But if the Board’s intent was to protect students from escalating tuition costs that can come with financial storms—which it avowedly was—it has now utterly failed to do so. Worse, the Regents have not only failed to honor their original promise to students to make it easier for them to go to college, it has actually made higher education even more unattainable.

Along with ending “Fixed for Four,” the Regents raised tuition at all schools except Tech and UGA for students taking more than 12 hours of credit. Unlucky students wishing to learn more or graduate sooner will now have to pay for extra classes a la carte. Our beloved alma mater has not escaped from increasing costs, either. Overall tuition will rise 25 percent at Tech because of a new way of calculating tuition. Instead of basing tuition on 12 hours of classes, it will now be based on 15.

Oh, and remember that wonderful $100 mandatory fee increase the Regents imposed on students (without any consultation or prior warning, mind you) last December? The Regents have voted unanimously to continue to slam students with the extra fee, which is not covered by the HOPE scholarship. Ironically, our own SGA approved a resolution supporting an end to “Fixed for Four” this past February, in part because they thought it would deter the Regents from arbitrarily tacking on $100 fees to student bills. Well, we no longer have “Fixed for Four,” and we still have more $100 fees coming down the pipeline.

Sure, the economy is tough and the state’s budget is shrinking. But isn’t the University System of Georgia getting federal stimulus funds to the tune of $92.6 million? What about all the ridiculous amounts of money we’re throwing at campus construction? And how about the Regents asking the state for $1.6 million to buy the Albany Museum of Art to turn into faculty offices for Darton College when the museum isn’t even for sale? Increasing tuition should be the Regents’ very last resort for raising money, and if this drastic measure is indeed necessary, the Regents should first consult with university bodies and explain to students exactly why the increase is necessary—both of which they have failed to do.

Students with still-prosperous families may be able to ride out these changes without any financial damage, but for those whose families have been affected by the country’s 8.5 percent unemployment rate, these Regents-enacted policies just may mean the difference between getting a degree and dropping out. To them, University System Chancellor Erroll B. Davis’s assurance that “we want to do as much as feasible to help our students in tough times this year” may sound just a little hollow.