By Curt Yeomans
Clayton State University junior, Daniel Chapital, was a little confused last week when he reviewed his fees for the Spring 2009 semester.
Chapital, a native of Lithonia, checked his fees a week earlier to make sure everything was OK. He owed the university a little over $1,700 then. When he checked again last week, he owed the university more than $1,800. Like the other 6,073 students at Clayton State, a $75 fee had been added to Chapital's account.
"I was clueless and shocked, I didn't even know what had happened to cause my bill to go up at first," Chapital said. "I can guarantee you more than half of the students walking around this campus don't even know they were charged an extra $75."
Students in Georgia's 35 public colleges and universities have been asked to dig a little deeper into their pockets -- or their parents' pockets -- to pay a one-time fee to help the University System of Georgia deal with an anticipated 2 percent budget reduction.
On Dec. 3, the USG's Board of Regents approved plans to reduce the university's system's budget by 2 percent in anticipation of future budget reductions. The fees are part of the plan, and they range from $50-$100, depending on the university. Other actions include reducing the USG's contribution to paying for employee health insurance by 5 percent, and allowing universities to defer maintenance costs until next summer.
At Clayton State, and eight other comprehensive universities, students have to pay a $75 fee. CSU officials could not be reached for comment.
Fees of $100 will be assessed to students at the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, the Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Southern University,Valdosta State University, Kennesaw State University, Georgia College and State University, the University of West Georgia, and Southern Polytechnic State University.
Students at Georgia's 16 two-year and state colleges will receive a $50 fee. USG officials anticipate the temporary fees will offset $20 million in possible budget reductions.
But, students at Clayton State are not happy about another fee being added onto their bills. In addition to tuition and book costs, students already pay fees for parking; technology; athletics; student identification cards; health care, and student activities.
An in-state freshman at Clayton State, who takes 12 semester hours, already has to pay $1,976 per semester for tuition, while out-of-state freshmen have to pay $6,572, based on figures on the university's web site. There also is another $2,475 for on-campus housing.
Erica Johnston, a sophomore from East Orange, N.J., said she had to take out a $5,500 loan to help pay for tuition and books for the fall and spring semesters. "They should at least ask us for our input before they give us these fees," she said. "I have to take out student loans to pay for college, so every little dollar counts."
The USG reduced its budget by $136 million earlier this year during a round of budget reductions. The system is currently aiming to make up for an additional $40 million reduction in state funding.
"He's [the governor] indicated they [the state agencies] should be prepared for more reductions, but at this point, he has only formally called for the 6 percent reductions," said Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for the governor.
Diane Payne, a spokesperson for the USG, said the student fees were not the ideal solution. However, she added that the university system also wanted to be proactive to avoid more drastic cuts in the future. Even though this is only a one-time fee at this time, Payne did not rule out the possibility of the regents renewing the fees for future semesters.
"We've done everything we can to minimize the effect on the students as much as possible, but it is impossible to totally shield them from this," said Payne.
Jenaye Wilson, a sophomore from Atlanta, said she does not like the fee, but understands its purpose. "They are caught in a Catch 22," she said. "We benefit from going to school here, and from the knowledge we gain from our professors, but they still have to pay those professors ... The people I feel bad for are the parents, because they are the ones who have to pay for their child's education ...
"The parents are getting this [economic crisis] twice, because they already get it in their own lives, and now they get it again in the lives of their children."