Fee increase, much more to tackle in coming year

I knew coming into this job that no matter the course plotted for next year, the issues that will influence our journey have not yet been fully defined. I knew that due to the nature of financial support for Graduate students, fees would be an issue we would surely focus a large portion of our time on. The Institutional (Academic Excellence) Fee was poised to be a contentious issue as the Board of Regents prepared for their April meeting to set tuition and fee levels for next year.
Of all the scenarios discussed and concerns raised, Grad. SGA never thought the Board of Regents would be so short-sighted as to essentially deny Tech’s request for a tuition increase and instead place the burden directly on the backs of students by raising the Institutional Fee. But then again, one must realize that the Regents are governed by politics, and unlike the future engineers and scientists that we will be, logic wasn’t a deciding factor in this decision. Simply put, they played politics with money to the detriment of Tech students.
All students recognize the need for fees as they pay for essential, well-defined services. Our Health Services Fee funds the Stamps Health Center. Our Student Activity Fee funds the CRC, Student Center and countless student organizations that add to the diversity of the Institute. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked what service the Institutional Fee goes toward. As was released in President Peterson’s message to the campus this week, the Institute will “plan to hire additional faculty to accommodate our enrollment growth, continue financial aid relief for our neediest students and support our important academic initiatives, including funds to operate the new Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons.” The President is in a tough position.
Due to a $100 million reduction in the state’s appropriation over the past few years, Tech‘s financial ledgers are challenged. The Institute is starving for revenue to make up the difference so departments don’t have to make cuts to stay out of the red. It makes sense to ask the Regents for a significant tuition increase to work towards filling that budget gap. Yet instead of raising tuition, the Regents decided to raise the “Tuition” Fee, as I will refer to it. To Georgia voters, the state legislature and the governor, a fee increase is more palatable than a comparable increase in tuition.
The Regents are aware of that. What they obviously didn’t consider is that this fee will come directly out of the pockets of graduate students. Graduate funding covers tuition but not fees. The increase in the fee represents a 5.8 percent pay cut for the average Grad. student and the total Tuition Fee ($1632 per year) represents a 9.1 percent reduction in pay. The Tuition Fee is an unacceptable burden on Tech’s students and Grad. SGA will do everything we can to clearly communicate the burden it places on grad. students to the people with the power to change it.
Aside from dealing with the Tuition Fee, the incoming Grad. Executive Board hopes to accomplish many initiatives. The size of the Graduate Senate was the largest in its history this past year, and we hope to continue to fill empty seats as we reach out to departments across campus to communicate with students. The Board of Governors proved to be a crucial tool in this endeavor last year and we will be developing it further to reach students at the departmental level.
Graduate SGA is the only campus-wide student organization that provides programming targeted to graduate students and we need more students involved within the organization to improve our programming capacity and sustainability for the high levels of outreach that we provide. If you attended the Graduate Career Symposium, the Georgia Tech Research and Innovation Conference (GTRIC) or the Fall Picnic, you have observed the quality programming we provide. We can always improve them, so be on the lookout for these awesome events next year. Another challenge for next year will be forming our new health insurance policy.
The current policy (mandated and controlled by the Board of Regents) is offered to all students in the University System of Georgia. Because of this, Tech has little say in the benefits or cost of the policy. With our own policy, we would dictate the terms and not the Regents. This will be a victory years in the making for Tech graduate students. Our Fiscal Responsibility Committee has done a great job working to provide suggestions on how we can better manage your Student Activity Fee. I am very excited to watch as these suggestions are implemented.
In conclusion, I have to say that I am energized for next year’s challenges and the potential for improving the welfare of Graduate students that they will bring.
I hope the projects and programs we implement next year prove to be beneficial for Graduate students and the entire student body. I look forward to serving you.
Together we can work toward a more transparent, efficient, fiscally responsible and sustainable SGA. No fee increase required.

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