Georgia’s students get a lesson in the ‘fees’ fudge factor

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).

The difference between the headline and reality has been covered in other places. Here’s what’s equally alarming:

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

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54 comments Add your comment

DeborahinAthens

April 20th, 2011
6:49 am

That’s what we love about Republicans! If you can’t raise the bridge, lower the water. Like Bush…declare two senseless, useless expensive wars, cut taxes, and account for the costs of the wars off the balance sheet as an “emergency expense”–even after five years. Or, here in Georgia, tell everyone you’re cutting taxes at the same time you are actually raising taxes and fees on things that weren’t taxed in the past. You think if you keep repeating the lies over and over, they will be accepted as truth. Thank goodness some American people are more intelligent than Republicans give them credit for being. But….maybe not…I’m sitting here watching Michelle Bachman being interviewed on CNN. She hasn’t answered one question the man has asked! I kid you not. Every question about the budget, the debt ceiling, etc. she says the American people have spoken and they blah, blah, blah. Same answer to every question! I honestly don’t think that she really knows the answer to any of the questions. Her “handlers” have told her to keep her head low, repeat the mantra and the tea-party nut cases will take care of the rest.

Road Scholar

April 20th, 2011
6:51 am

So Kyle, from your column, I suppose you are in favor of increasing “user fees” such as the gas tax? I have already paid and recieved my refund from our state and Federal income fee !

Road Scholar

April 20th, 2011
7:00 am

From the AJC “State colleges are set to lose $346 million in state funding with the fiscal year that begins July 1. Nearly all state agencies received less money because of the recession.”

Let’s give more tax breaks to the rich and businesses! We don’t need no stinkin’ education. Let the dumbing down of the American population continue! And the repubs talk about attracting businesses to the state! Ha!

Jefferson

April 20th, 2011
7:14 am

I guess the Hope wellfare won’t be enough to cover the bills, one repulibcan chuckles….Kyle, it really ain’t funny.

Monty

April 20th, 2011
7:17 am

I’m shocked that Kyle forgot to mention that the Regents have been forced to raise fees and cut positions (that means fewer jobs BTW) because the Cons in the state legislature have been cutting the state portion of the university system budget.

They must have read that the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to vote republican. They’re just trying to maintain their job security by cutting education.

Van Jones

April 20th, 2011
7:38 am

Sounds familiar… I can get my oil changed for $19.99 ($6 shop fee extra, $3 oil disposal fee not included, $2 waiting room fee extra). But it’s only $19.99 right?

Carl

April 20th, 2011
7:40 am

Kyle: How many graduate teaching assistant positions is UGA cutting out? Where will the folks who would fill those positions going? Another state perhaps? Do you think this is going to help Georgia over the long run? Are we really better off with a poor education system?

jd

April 20th, 2011
7:56 am

Yeah — those airline tix are real deal — it’s the baggage fees, the ticket change fees, the “your lucky day” fees that hide the real cost. We’re luck the Regents don’t follow the lead of the food industry and sell us less food for the same price.

Senior Citizen Kane

April 20th, 2011
7:56 am

Perhaps the AJC should do a story exposing the extravagant salaries of college administrators and professors and the massive waste in our larger universities. The media love to ‘expose’ CEO salaries and bonuses in the private sector – which are not paid by taxpayers – so why not do the same with college professors and administrators – who are.

Buzz G

April 20th, 2011
7:57 am

Education debt has passed credit card debt for the first time ever. Many graduating from college with a big debt load will never pay it off and can’t shuck it off via bankruptcy. It will follow them through life and will be hanging over their heads when their own children wish to go to college. We teach our kids the value of a good education. We need to teach them to pay for it in advance. The fact is that certain fields are not in demand and a degree in something like Women’s Studies or Sociology will never pay for itself. Studies that show how much more money a college graduate earns during a lifetime are generally biased since (1) the study is usually commissioned by the education institution and comes up with the desired results and (2) certain high paying field like MD, Pharmacy and Dentistry skew the results.

Alex

April 20th, 2011
8:32 am

Just consider it a lesson in the “cost of doing business”. Prices of raw materials rise in the “real world” all of the time (got gas?) and those costs get passed on the consumer.

The land of the free (home of the brave) refers to personal freedoms not higher education, healthcare, food, shelter, fill in the blank.

jconservative

April 20th, 2011
8:32 am

A tax increase by any other name is still a tax increase.

Fix-It

April 20th, 2011
8:40 am

DebrainAthens,
How can ANY sane intelligent person blame one party for the mess we are in? Two useless expensive wars, at least it took 8 years to get 2, Obozo is half way there. So where is the criticism there? By the way who keeps repeating lies? I have heard more DNC lies than anybody in the last 2 years. Did you forget all the campaign promises? I also think that it is very funny that you libs think that balancing the budget is stupid; can you please explain that to me? The Tea Party nut cases that want to spend less than we make, that seems pretty smart to any intelligent person. For every dollar you libs want to spend it devalues our dollar, because we don’t have it, so we print more….So DebrainAthens, can you explain to me why borrowing money from other nations to fund our entitlement programs, printing money to devalue our currency, is good for any American? Just one for you to ponder, gas does not cost that much more it is that our dollar is worth that much less….

carlosgvv

April 20th, 2011
8:41 am

There always have been and always will be people desperate to get every last bit on money you have. Whether it’s the Govt. or business, you must constantly be on guard as they have no morals of any kind and will lie and cheat any way they can to get your money.

Moderate Line

April 20th, 2011
8:42 am

These fees are nothing more than a way to make it difficult to compare the relative cost of going to a particular college, Many companies do things like this but government entities should not be copying these practices.

commoncents

April 20th, 2011
8:47 am

Here’s an idea: If you can’t afford something, don’t buy/lease/finance it!

Eric

April 20th, 2011
8:50 am

All these mandatory fees have been going on for some time and do little to nothing to advance academic success. As an example, consider athletic fees charged to graduate students (as myself). I live more than 25 miles from campus, and so I do not use the gym or attend sports events (I’m busy with school and work). So talk about a propped-up jobs “welfare” program for the athletic department! Also, you can bet I will decline any alumni contributions, since the university has already taken that from me!

Peter

April 20th, 2011
9:09 am

Republican’s have been raising Taxes via fees for all, and cutting taxes for the Rich, and corporations in Georgia.

Basically they are lying about taxes to all, and what the fees are used for, but hey what is new ?

Richard

April 20th, 2011
9:34 am

The Republicans want to cut taxes for the rich, and shift the tax burden to students. Makes sense considering how high paying the part time jobs are these days.

“Hey guys, let’s generate revenue for the state! We’ll get it by taxing the people without jobs!”

Brilliant.

Fix-It

April 20th, 2011
10:07 am

The FairTax would take care of most tax issues, which is why it won’t happen; it makes too much sense…

No Artificial Flavors

April 20th, 2011
10:07 am

As a fairly recent graduate of college and grad school I can say this is why people come out owing tens of thousands of dollars in student loans as no one can afford to go to school full time and work. You would have to have a job paying over $40k per year to afford college tuition and fees each semester. However you only hope to get a job paying over $40k upon graduation.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

April 20th, 2011
10:22 am

After reading Dr. Walter E Williams today I wonder why even one dollar of taxpayer money should go to any college or “scholarship” program. http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/williamns042011.php3

Georgia Voter

April 20th, 2011
10:23 am

Great piece by KW.

It looks like Georgia public universities have taken a page out of the corporate playbook by advertising one price to get us interested, but then somehow, we end up paying a much higher price when all is said and done (advertising and undercoating on autos, baggage fees on airplanes, document preparation fees on a mortgage).

This piece also reinforces my cynicism about the degradation of journalism. More and more, television, radio, and newspapers are the mouthpieces of the powerful. I’m not just talking about the editorial page. I’m talking about what they choose to cover (for example, Paul Ryan’s budget), what they choose NOT to cover (for example, Congressional Progressive Caucus’ budget), and how they distort or bury important information.

http://grijalva.house.gov/uploads/The%20CPC%20FY2012%20Budget.pdf

Rafe Hollister

April 20th, 2011
10:29 am

I think it is the supply and demand thing working. As long as the Yuppie parents think that Buffy and Beau just have to get that college experience at the best college they can get it, the students will get hosed financially. Been down that road myself, Junior has his Masters and is working minimum wage and loaded with debt.

The Colleges are taking advantage of the demand. Their is no reason that they like everyone else can not do more with less, bu this will never happen. They have a built in lobby, what with all the Elite thinking we need to spend more on education, no matter how much we are already spending, and all the people who are there on scholarships and on the taxpayers dime. The working stiffs feel that no matter the financial hardship and lack of benefits, they are being left behind if they don’t get their degree.

It is kinda like Georgia Power encouraging you to help them keep the poor warm, while they continue to raise rates.

Rafe Hollister

April 20th, 2011
10:39 am

Ragner, I agree with Dr. Williams about the rot that is ongoing at America’s Colleges and universities, but this is old news. I enrolled in 1968 and in my first Sociology class, defended Nixon, and was called aside and told by the professor that I probably was not intelligent enough to be in college and I probably should pursue a trade. Same ole, same ole for 45 years.

We still have independent thinkers inspite of the left wing indoctrination of our young people, thank goodness.

Boehner Tears

April 20th, 2011
10:59 am

You tell’em Rafe. When I went to college, the team was all white and we wore leather helmets.

Georgia Voter

April 20th, 2011
11:01 am

I’m curious Rafe. What is your defense for Nixon using his campaign contributions and government aides to finance and direct break-ins and other crimes and then actively working to cover them up?

A university professor teaches that this is bad, and you call that indoctrination?

fair and imbalanced

April 20th, 2011
11:13 am

Nothing like the Republican oath.

Rafe Hollister

April 20th, 2011
11:28 am

Georgia Voter

Nixon was much like ole Barry, most of what he did was wrong, but like a blind hog he ocassionally found an acorn. Independent thinkers are not blinded by the warts and blemishes.

Kyle Wingfield

April 20th, 2011
11:29 am

Georgia Voter: I’m not Rafe, but I would hazard a guess that the answer is that the conversation with the professor took place in 1968, four years before the Watergate break-in took place.

Kyle Wingfield

April 20th, 2011
11:30 am

Sorry if I stepped on your toes, Rafe…

JF McNamara

April 20th, 2011
11:46 am

Whatever, you know the deal Kyle. Continually lie about tax cuts leading to increased revenue, but add fees(taxes) everywhere you can to actually raise revenue. All this so Republicans can say they never raised taxes…

yuzeyurbrane

April 20th, 2011
11:50 am

Of course you are right Kyle. But I take it from your other articles that you are perfectly OK with the gutting of HOPE. The real problem, as I am sure you realize, is that state expenditure on college education has been reduced to 1995 levels. So if the Regents want to even tread water on quality, money has to come from somewhere. We know Deal’s parents were schoolteachers and that he has seen to it that state funds for his alma mater, private college Mercer, actually increased this year, but other than that talk is cheap. Where’s the beef? Does he have plans to restore cuts to higher education? Is he willing to lead the charge to invest in quality public education so as to provide the workforce that will attract 21st century industries to Georgia? I have my doubts for both him and you. Lower corporate taxes for one of the lowest corporate tax states is obviously not the answer.

Dumber and Dumber

April 20th, 2011
11:56 am

Please — in Georgia the GOP has done quite well at claiming that they ain’t raising taxes, we’re just charging “user fees” or “maintenance fees” or the new toll lanes on freeways we already paid for, or my personal fave, a tire “disposal fee” that’s got nothing to do with removing illegal tire dumps.

Before the GOP took over the dems did pretty much the same thing, so no real difference there. Just a continued lack of honesty – but we elected them, so I guess we deserve this nonsense.

My favorite Bushism was when the reclassified golf courses as wetlands to show that he cared about water quality. That was brilliant!

http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/001346.php

I bet the next GOP President will argue that we should loosen Clean Air Act restrictions on particulate matters and smog because it helps cut down on skin cancer, who cares what you have to breathe? — that’s less important than a nice pale complexion. Besides, if Obama is for clean air act regs, then its clearly a socialist, nazi, kenyan, jihadist plot that is anti-american and anti-christion. This continued injustice to liberty cannot stand!

JP

April 20th, 2011
11:57 am

Jefferson

April 20th, 2011
11:59 am

Students should all get together and take a year off, then see how the regents like that…

Georgia Voter

April 20th, 2011
11:59 am

A minor detail, KW. :)

Drifter

April 20th, 2011
12:20 pm

Yes, those special fees are quite a racket…a way to gouge the public without technically raising tuition. But they learned it from other branches of government. When the government can charge every homeowner $40 a year for the rain that supposedly runs off your property, they’ll do just about anything.

jd

April 20th, 2011
12:35 pm

Kyle — Nixon didn’t lose his sainthood between 68 and 72. His character was firmly established — just ask your pal Ronnie Reagan. And, when will the wining stop about hearing ideas you disagree with? If we all agreed with each other, we wouldn’t need Jesus, would we?

Rafe Hollister

April 20th, 2011
1:04 pm

Kyle, thanks for having my back there.

jd, you are implying that some politicians are saints? I do not remember any in my lifetime. That is not a profession where Saints thrive.

jm

April 20th, 2011
1:22 pm

Well, subsidized business (education in this instance) cannot go on being subsidized into infinity. People will ultimately have to pay the cost one way or the other.

Don’t know why you would be upset that the schools are actually starting and asking the beneficiaries to pay some of the cost instead of just asking taxpayers and lottery players to pay.

Ray

April 20th, 2011
1:33 pm

Getting our priorities straight: Georgia taxpayers subsidize general aviation airports all over this state, off the books. It is a dirty secret. This off the books “subsidy”, (some would call it stealing), makes it possible for airport managers to offer their “customers” free landings. Corporate jet operators, and such, can afford to pay landing and parking fees. And yes, Delta can afford to pay sales tax (pass the cost onto passengers, they have means).

I am not sure our poor college students (from parents of more modest means) will be able to continue doing so. It really may be time to do means testing again, for HOPE. Or perhaps, following the news, Gov. Deal will get his horse racing, parimutuel betting, Indian casino dream up and running in time to save this states college education system, for all.

Peter

April 20th, 2011
1:38 pm

Yes Kyle educate the youth about getting screwed by politicians as an adult.

You act so proud of the fact the GOP runs this crooked state in unscrupulous ways.

How is that lobbyist’s crooked behavior find you, all giggly, since they don’t have to tell anyone they are paying GOP politicians to undermine the rest of Georgia ?

carlosgvv

April 20th, 2011
2:35 pm

Georgia Voter

Actually, it is the Republicans who have taken a page out of the advertisers playbook. They have learned how to use brainwashing, propaganda and lies to fool the simple into believing anything they say, no matter how sleazy and outlandish it is.

Dan

April 20th, 2011
2:44 pm

@carlosgvv, another perfect example of projecting

real john

April 20th, 2011
2:50 pm

Do most of you Democrats all belong to some secret website that you go to every day so you can blog the same useless, pointless, old, mostly inaccruate statements about Republicans.

Republicans are only rich, white, big oil and finance CEO’s who love wars and want to kill old people and women and children by cutting off Medicare and Social Security. Are some of you really that dumb? Or, are you getting paid by liberal groups to blog the same useless stuff all over the website all day?

Kyle Wingfield

April 20th, 2011
2:55 pm

jm: I would prefer that the regents, and state lawmakers, were more straight-forward about asking for more money.

Peter

April 20th, 2011
3:22 pm

Hey real john….

Do Republican’s really believe that George Bush was a great president, that “Deficits don’t matter”, that you can spend for WAR and not budget for that money ?

Do Republican’s believe George Bush created a smaller government not the larger government we have today ?

Do Republican’s beleive that less over sight is better, cause then stuff like the implosion of the economy is good for all Americans ?

Do Republican’s beleive it is OK to kill in war, but abortion is wrong ?

Do Republican’s believe George Bush left American in as good a place, as when he got in office with a surplus, and really it is all the Democrat’s fault we almost had a depression ?

Legend of Len Barker

April 20th, 2011
3:25 pm

@Road Scholar

We don’t need no thought control?
No dark sarcasm in the classroom?

Georgia Voter

April 20th, 2011
3:27 pm

jm: “Don’t know why you would be upset that the schools are actually starting and asking the beneficiaries to pay some of the cost instead of just asking taxpayers and lottery players to pay.

We’re all beneficiaries of education. Architecture, transportation, food and water, energy, medicine, technology,… do I need to go on?

Unless you’re living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, whether or not you finish high school or attend college, you benefit. Those who don’t want to contribute to pre-K, K-12, or higher education by way of taxes are the true welfare queens. (That includes Cobb County seniors who are happily exempt from paying school taxes.)