Our state government has become creative in devising ways to take more of your money without raising “taxes.” Chief among these methods is inventing or increasing “fees” that are for all practical purposes a different stream of general revenues — rather than a charge for, and carefully priced to cover, a particular service.
Substitute another T-word — tuition — for taxes, and you have what Georgia’s Board of Regents did Tuesday.
The headline on the press release from the University System of Georgia, which oversees the state’s public research universities and four- and two-year colleges, read: “Regents Approve Three Percent Tuition Increase for Fall 2011.” Three percent probably sounded pretty good to students and their parents, given that tuition has been rising much faster in recent years. It wasn’t until the 13th paragraph of the statement that one realized the overall increase, including a big increase in mandatory fees, comes out to 9 percent on average. It’s even higher for students at two-year colleges (who will see a 10.5 percent increase) or Georgia Tech (12.2 percent).
Created just two years ago, these “special institutional fees” have gone from zero to constituting anywhere from 9 percent to 15 percent of a student’s base-line cost of attending a public college in Georgia (i.e., not counting room and board). The 45,000 students attending college on the now-closed Guaranteed Tuition Plan have gone from owing nothing, beyond what their parents paid into the plan during their childhood, to facing a bill of $200 to $550 per semester.
Fifteen months ago, the regents adopted a sufficiently vague “statement on the philosophy behind student fees: ’student fee revenues are to be used exclusively to support the institution’s mission to enrich the educational, institutional and cultural experience of students.’ ”
The press release from 15 months ago also included this explanation:
Mandatory fees are fees charged to all students at an institution and which cover the cost of specific services provided for students that are outside the academic programs covered by tuition. For example, such fees cover student activities, technology, intercollegiate athletics programs, healthcare, parking and transportation, and new facilities.
Never mind if you don’t participate in or attend “student activities” or “intercollegiate athletics programs,” or whether you have a car to park on campus. You’re going to pay the “fee” regardless.
At least the regents haven’t attempted to call them “user fees,” as state officials have done in other cases even if the amount of the “user fee” has little or no relation to the cost of providing a service to that user. But they surely know that students and parents tend to compare colleges on the headline cost of “tuition” — and that tacking on mandatory fees, rather than raising tuition by the same amount, makes Georgia’s college look better on that score than they deserve.
In that respect, they’ve followed the lead of other state officials very well.
– By Kyle Wingfield