Students must unite to ensure equitable solution to budget crisis

This past Monday, Governor Perdue announced that the net revenue collections for the month of Feb. 2010 totaled $567.251 million. which is a 9.9 percent decrease, or $62.197 million, from the previous year. The University System of Georgia (USG) has seen $361 million in budget cuts between the FY11 recommendations and the FY09 original budget. None of us can deny that Ga. is in a recession and facing challenging times.

On Feb. 27, Tech proposed the absolute worst case measures that would have to be taken to accommodate an additional $38 million cut from the current budget to share in the $300 million cut that the state legislature was seeking to impose upon the USG. The state legislature had set forth strict constraints, such as assuming that there would be no tuition increases and no additional formula funding. To see the full USG proposal set forth before the State Legislature, you can visit www.usg.edu/fiscal_affairs.

The most frequently asked question is what does this mean for graduate students? It is difficult to predict the final outcome, but likely it will be a measured approached. I can assure you that we are working hard to ensure that our quality of education and the integrity of our degrees are preserved. There are many proposals on the table that will affect Tech graduate students to some degree, but none as contentious as another fee increase. The Board of Regents (BOR) sets the tuition and fee levels, not the state Legislature.

Ask any student to choose between an increase in fees or tuition and 99 percent of the time they will answer tuition. Tuition is covered by loans, employers, grants and scholarships. Fees have to be paid out of pocket. For graduate students that are already living below the poverty line, paying increased fees would be catastrophic and would most likely cause some graduate students to drop out of school.

Why is a fee increase being considered? Three words. Fixed For Four. This program was initially implemented by the BOR to ensure that all undergraduate students paid the same amount of tuition for the first four years, in order to motivate them to graduate within that time. Last year the BOR decided to do away with Fixed For Four, but the university system already had insufficient funds. Therefore, instead of increasing tuition, the BOR added the “Academic Excellence Fee”. Although graduate students were never eligible for the Fixed for Four plans, we have had to suffer the same consequences.

What can you do?

Sign up at www.sga.gatech.edu to join in the Student Rally. On Monday, March 15, at 9 a.m. we will meet other Ga. public university students at Hurt Park, near Georgia State University and march to the Capitol. Please wear your school colors. This peaceful march will demonstrate to the public and to the General Assembly that we as students are not sitting idly by as observers, but stand united to ensure the preservation of our education and the integrity of our degrees. At 10 a.m. there will be a press conference at the Capitol, after which your elected SGA members will attend meetings with our state representatives.

These representatives will express our concerns that between the Governor’s FY11 recommendation and the FY09 original budget, the USG has seen $361 million in budget cuts. We recognize that the USG is highly likely to see additional budget cuts due to the tax revenue shortfall; however, those cuts should be proportional to the amount allocated from the state budget to the USG in FY10.

Also, sign the online petition found at www.sga.gatech.edu, and write to your senators and representatives and share with them your concerns.

In closing, it is vitally important that we as Tech students come together on this issue in a peaceful and respected manner, so that we will be taken seriously. I do not envy the decisions that the BOR have to make in the upcoming weeks, and I can only hope that they will take a measured approach and listen to our concerns.