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May 10, 2010 3:57 PM Georgia Colleges Abuse Student Fees

By Daniel Luzer

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Student fees: so easy to create, so hard to kill. Student activity fees are the bills charged to students at a school, in addition to normal tuition, to pay for non-academic groups and programs. At least in Georgia, it turns out that the schools often use these fees in somewhat questionable ways. According to an article by Walter Jones in the Augusta Chronicle:

The $239 million in mandatory student fees charged by the state’s 35 public colleges and universities should be better managed to ensure the money is spent on programs that benefit all students, state auditors concluded.
“We found that the Board of Regents’ student-fee policies allow significant discretion on the part of each institution regarding the use of student-fee revenues,” the auditors wrote. “As such, they provide little assurance that fees are used in a manner that benefits the entire student body to the greatest extent possible even though all students are required to pay these fees.”

The trouble appears to be that activity fees are such an easy way to raise money that it’s pretty easy to abuse. In theory, all student fees must include the input of students and should be leveled for clear purposes to the benefit of students. But this sort of thing is apparently very difficult to monitor.

The records for student fees are often poorly kept, according to the 46-page report by Georgia’s State Department of Audits and Accounts. There are numerous abuses of student fees detailed in the report. In 1989, for instance, University of Georgia students voted to pay an extra $50 a semester in activity fees to assist the school in building the Ramsey Center, a $40 million, eight-acre campus gym and athletic training center. It’s apparently the largest student athletic facility in the United States of America.

According to the original agreement, students were scheduled to pay the extra $50 a semester until 2013, when the building would be paid off. Except that the school decided to consider the student fee the gift that keeps on giving; it intends keep the fee in place and use the money to fund the expansion of the Tate Student Center, to the tune of $2.5 million.

What’s more, schools often seem to charge fees for things that don’t really seem to help students. Student fees should be paid out in a year. They’re only there, after all, to benefit the students currently studying at the school. But in 16 different cases the audit found that Georgia approved fee increases even though schools didn’t spend the money they’d already collected from students. More than 20 percent of fees Georgia colleges amassed since 2008 haven’t bought anything at all. Colleges haven’t spent the money.

This is, of course, an audit that only applies to public colleges and universities in Georgia. Is the Peach State an anomaly? It seems like such an easy way for a college to raise cash. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer