The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved Wednesday a temporary fee for every student in the university system to help offset another 2 percent in cuts the Regents expect the system will be asked to make once the legislators return to the statehouse and amend the budget. In addition, employees will be asked to pay 5 percent more of their insurance costs.
The student fee will range from $50 to $100 depending on which university the student attends. At UWG, each student will be required to pay a fee of $75. That may not seem like a lot, but students say it is just one more expense, one more straw on the camel’s back.
“That’s like a book, right there,” said Lauren Bailey, a freshman at the university. “I know one of my friends ... she only has one of her books for this whole semester because she couldn’t buy the other ones.”
Students are already struggling to find the money for college and adding more fees just adds to the difficulty, she said.
“I understand that the recession’s cut and all that stuff, but the students are going through that as well,” said Kierstyn Wright, a sophomore studying business management.
This summer, the governor asked the university system along with all state agencies to cut their budgets by 6 percent because of falling tax revenue. The university system asked the 35 institutions that it oversees to submit budgets with 5-percent cuts, 8-percent cuts and 10-percent cuts. In October, the Regents approved the 5-percent cuts and cut the additional 1 percent at the system level.
But, as the economy has deteriorated, state revenue has continued to fall and the system is expecting the legislators to ask for deeper cuts.
“This is not a surprise,” said John Millsaps, spokesman for the regents. “The thing we’re wrestling with is how do you achieve that and maintain academic quality.”
The Regents approved the increases because the changes would have the least effect on the classroom, he said.
Employees of the system will now have to pay an additional 5 percent of their insurance costs, an average of $17 to $65 a month depending on the plan they have chosen. The change will save the system $8 million.
Another $12 million will be saved through additional deferred maintenance. In addition, the student fees will bring in an estimated $20 million to offset budget cuts at the university level.
At UWG, the fees will bring in an estimated $750,000, said President Beheruz Sethna. That money will stay at the university to be used on campus. He’s not sure how far the money will go toward offsetting the cuts the university has been asked to make, he said. And he’s not confident that these will be the last cuts for the year.
“I hope so, but I will certainly not bank on that,” Sethna said.
In April, as the economy faltered, the university had set aside some money in case the university faced cuts, and Sethna thinks the university should take the same action with some of the funds raised by the new fee.
The university has worked to shield the students from the budget cuts, choosing to make cuts by freezing hiring and deferring maintenance, he said. Some students were surprised to learn that UWG had been facing financial cuts this year.
“I haven’t noticed anything as far as downgrading,” said Adam Byars, a sophomore studying computer engineering and physics. “I’ve seen a lot of improvements so it does come as a surprise to me.”
The $75 fee, while an irritation, is worth it to him, because at the end of four years, he will be able to get a good job, Byars said.
The pressure from the Capitol is understandable considering the shortfall the state is facing in its tax revenue, Sethna said. The state has seen a 2.4 percent decrease in revenue so far this fiscal year and has to cut spending somewhere, according to Rep. Mark Butler, R-Carrollton.
“There are no villains in this whole matter,” Sethna said. “These challenges are simply challenges. We’ll find the best way to overcome them and we will continue to be of great service to the students of this state.”