ATLANTA — Ever-increasing fees the University System of Georgia’s (USG) 26 colleges and universities charge students are making it harder to afford a college education in the Peach State, a state senator said Wednesday.
The fees even part-time and graduate students are forced to pay each semester have grown significantly, particularly since the Great Recession, Sen. Sally Harrell, D-Atlanta, told members of a Senate study committee created this year to examine the issue and make recommendations.
“Every parent of a USG student sees a long list of fees when they pay the tuition bill,” she said. That bill doesn’t make them happy, especially when the HOPE scholarship doesn’t cover fees.”
Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, who joined Harrell in sponsoring the resolution creating the study committee, said the fees became a greater concern when the coronavirus pandemic shut down college campuses last year, making student activities financed by many of the fees unavailable.
“That made us all more interested in where the fees go,” he said.
While there are dozens of mandatory and elective fees, Harrell said one of the largest – the institutional fee – was a product of the Great Recession. She said her daughter, who attends Georgia Tech, is being charged an institutional fee of $544 per semester.
Teresa MacCartney, the university system’s acting chancellor, said the institutional fee was intended as a temporary measure to help offset the economic impacts of the recession when the Board of Regents approved it in 2009.
However, state tax revenues were slow to recover during the years following the economic downturn, even as enrollment across the system grew with students laid off because of the economy signing up for college classes.
“We had less resources but were required to provide more services,” she said.
MacCartney said the institutional fee raises $230 million a year, money the university system would be hard pressed to replace.
“How do you take away $230 million in revenue and assure we’re providing a quality education?” she said
MacCartney said most of the increase in student fees in recent years has been to pay the debt service on building projects not directly related to instruction, such as parking decks, student housing and on-campus recreation centers.
While the state finances classroom buildings and labs, non-instructional projects are paid for through public-private ventures that account for more than 20% of mandatory student fees, she said.
MacCartney said she has asked officials at all 26 system campuses to look for greater efficiencies that could help save money.
“There are some things we could probably tighten up,” she said. “But even tightening up, I don’t think, is going to drive $230 million.”
Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and the study committee, promised the panel will take a close look at the fee structure without making any prejudgments.
“We certainly do not want to cripple our institutions,” he said. “At the same token, we don’t want to spend more than we need to spend to maintain fine programs.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.