A group of University of Georgia graduate students and supporters protested before a state Board of Regents meeting on Oct. 15, 2019 to remove an institution fee and for greater access for immigrant students in the University System of Georgia. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

Demonstrators demand Georgia Regents remove special fees on students

ATHENS - Several dozen people protested outside a Georgia Board of Regents meeting on Tuesday to demand it end an annual fee imposed on students created a decade ago.

The “special institution fee” ranges from $200 to $300 at most of the 26 schools in the University System of Georgia schools, but it is $450 at the University of Georgia, where the demonstration was held.

Most of the protesters were University of Georgia graduate students who teach on campus and say the fee is a burden.

“It causes a lot of hardship for me and my fellow grad students,” said Valerie McLaurin, 32, a first-year UGA doctoral student who works as a teaching assistant in the history department.

The fee was created in 2009 as an emergency measure to help the University System manage its way through a reduction in state funds during the Great Recession. The University System, with board approval, has continued the fee. 

“It’s been 10 years and it’s no longer a temporary fee,” McLaurin said.

The fee represents about 2% of UGA’s $1.7 billion budget. UGA officials said in one report that money from the fee and other funds have been used to pay for, among other things, 40 additional academic advisors since 2015.

University System officials have scheduled a meeting to discuss the matter with those actively involved in ending the fee, system spokeswoman Jen Ryan said Tuesday.

The protesters also raised other issues Tuesday, such as increasing access for unauthorized students to the University System. In 2011, the board approved a policy prohibiting unauthorized students from attending some of its top schools.

“There’s no economic or moral reason we shouldn’t allow people to pursue an education,” said UGA graduate student Sara Black, one of the demonstrators.

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