Story by Lane Saliba
Reporting by Madison Beasley and Jackie Long
Video by Kelly Quinn and Jackie Long
Since the inception of the University System of Georgia in 1931, colleges across the state of Georgia have grown exponentially. However, it's not just enrollment and campus size that have grown.
While tuition has increased at each school over the years, it is the mandatory fees that sometimes get overlooked. Students at many universities across the state of Georgia are paying upwards of $1,000 each semester, often not knowing how their money is being used for the different fees they are paying.
At the University of Georgia alone, in the last decade, students' mandatory fees have increased by 101 percent. It's even worse at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University. Georgia Tech's fees have increased by 110 percent and Georgia State's have increased by 115 percent.
The majority of this increase is due to the implementation of the Special Institutional Fee that was meant to offset state budget cuts to education during the 2010-11 academic year. But that fee never went away and actually rose dramatically the next year.
While the Student Government Association at Georgia is working to achieve more transparency, it has yet to accomplish it fully. According to the Special Institutional Fee Fact Sheet, provided by the SGA, the fee is "available to support any level of operations that would be appropriate for any educational and general fund source."
For a fee that makes up nearly half of students' mandatory fees each semester, that's an unsettling explanation. Even more unsettling is the fact that one of the reasons this fee may have been approved in the first place is because it was presented as a fee that would not always be around.
While the Special Institutional Fee may have become necessary to help universities grow and succeed, some students simply see it as just another fee on top of the many others, propelling them further into debt.
Looking into the rest of the mandatory fees at Georgia, specifically, does not present much more transparency.
The Athletic Association immediately refers those seeking transparency in regards to the $53 Athletic Fee to the on-campus Open Records Office. Similarly, when seeking transparency in regards to the Health Fee, which has risen to $199 from $174 since the 2007-08 academic year, the Health Center simply responds with a copy of the Health Fee Fact Sheet that is already posted online.
There was no response from the Vice President for Information Technology in regards to the CONNECTUGA Fee that has risen to $30 from $28 since the 2014-15 academic year, or the Technology Fee that has risen to $114 from $105 since the 2007-08 academic year. Additionally, there was no response from the Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services in regards to the Transportation Fee that has risen to $116 from $90 since the 2007-08 academic year.
The four officials that did respond in regards to the Green Fee, Recreation Fee, Facility Fee and Activity Fee provided a little more transparency and explanation as to where each of those fees go.
For example, the Facility Fee is the only fee that decreased during the 2017-18 academic year. Clayton Wilcox, the Director of Capital Budgeting, explained that "the facility fee was originally established to pay down debt service on the Ramsey Student Center." That debt was paid in full during the 2014-15 academic year, so the fee was allocated toward the Tate Center Expansion/Renovation debt.
The reason for the $5 reduction in the fee, Wilcox continued, was because "the Tate Center lease payment was revised and reduced as a result of debt refinancing that occurred in the Spring of 2016. To pass these savings along to the student, there was a reduction to the facility fee."
Whether those fees increase or decrease doesn't matter to some students, though, because they don't utilize the mediums their money is helping to fund. Some students go their entire collegiate career without stepping foot into the Health Center or going near an athletic event, yet they still pay the fees for it.
Unfortunately for them, waiving certain fees for students who don't use them would be too difficult, and likely will never happen.
In a world where transparency seems to be at a minimum, Georgia is taking steps in the opposite direction. It has quite a ways to go, and it may never get there. But the more students know about the mandatory fees they pay, the more willing they will be to pay them.
And if universities across the state of Georgia are unable to reduce fees in the future, making it easier for students to afford an education at a notable university, then they must take steps toward transparency, which in turn will enable the student bodies and campuses to continue to grow.