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High student fees paying off Georgia public university debt

(The Center Square) – Students at Georgia’s public universities are paying hundreds of dollars each semester to help schools with debt accrued from the last recession, a University System of Georgia (USG) official said.

Sen. Sally Harrell, D-Atlanta, who initiated the launch of the Senate Study Committee on University Fees, said the fees placed more financial weight on state scholarship recipients and part-time students.

USG students are subject to mandatory fees for activities, athletics, health, wellness, facilities, transportation, parking and technology, but Harrell took issue with institutional fees Wednesday during a committee meeting.

Acting USG Chancellor Teresa McCartney said the USG Board of Regents created the institutional fees in 2009 to offset state budget cuts caused by the Great Recession.

“The reality is decisions were made, and we have to be able to fulfill some of those decisions,” McCartney said.

The system never has been able to recoup the money it lost during that recession because of slow state revenue recovery, McCartney said.

USG records show institutional fees for the current school year range from $113 per semester to $544 per semester, depending on the university. Harrell said students are required to pay the full amount even if they are attending school part time. The full fees must be paid by all students who are completing five credit hours, and each class is worth three credit hours, Harrell said.

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Harrell said most students who attend college part time also take eight years to complete their degree, “making the price of their degree after eight years, probably thousands of dollars higher than someone who can afford to attend school full time.”

Harrell said eligible graduate students and HOPE or Zell Miller scholarships recipients, who often have part or all of their tuition covered, also are forced to pay the fees.

A freshman at the state’s most expensive public university, the Georgia Institute of Technology, pays $1,297 a semester in mandatory fees. A freshman at Georgia Southern University-Armstrong Campus, with the lowest institutional fees, pays $537 in mandatory fees.

McCartney said the institutional fees across USG’s 26 campuses accumulate about $230 million a year for the system.

“If you make a decision to move or move away from a special institutional fee, you’ve got to figure out ways to be able to go in and find savings efficiencies, cuts to be able to offset that,” McCartney said.

The Senate Study Committee on University Fees will continue to hold meetings to examine the fees and find legislative solutions.

By Nyamekye Daniel | The Center Square

The Georgia Virtue
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