California schools planning fees for any extra classes taken after 4 years.
The California State University (CSU) system is in a fiscal crisis, and is considering a draconian new measure to garner extra funds.
University of California – San Diego student Sharon Lay rails against the plan, which hits students unable to complete a full degree program within four years (which is about 70% of college attendees).
The CSU Board of Trustees wants to implement “punishment fees” for students who don’t graduate within four years. As a response, students at California State Universities recently banded together to prevent the proposal, and convinced the CSU Board of Trustees to postpone their plan to gather more information. While there has been an increasing number of students who remain at CSUs beyond the traditional four years, this proposal is unfair as it adds an unnecessary financial burden to students who are unable —not unwilling— to obtain the classes they need to graduate.
The “punishment fees” consist of three different fees to “motivate” students to graduate in a timely manner: a $372 per-unit supplement for students who have already met the required number of units to graduate, a $91 per-unit fee for students planning to redo a class, and a $182 per-unit fee for students planning to take more than 18 units per grading period. Implementing these fees insinuates that students procrastinate on finishing their degrees. However, a survey conducted by the CSU Students for Equality Education group shows that 50 percent of students are unable to get the classes they need to graduate, forcing them to take on additional quarters to fulfill their requirements.
Fitting students into classes is challenging given enrollment increases of 75,000 more students across the CSU system than there were in 1997. This makes it difficult to obtain all required classes, especially with courses only offered during certain quarters or semesters. With students vying for that specific Winter Quarter class, it is no wonder that 65.1 percent of students graduate in six years at public four-year universities in California, according to a study done by The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2010. However, a student should not be punished for being unable to stay on track with graduation when they’re incapable of getting the necessary classes needed to finish their major.
CSU officials also hope to stop the number of students retaking classes. The SQE survey shows that 55 percent of students have had to retake a course. However, a potential solution is instigating a lower cap on the number of courses a student is allowed to retake. Most CSUs have a limit of 16 units per year, but by implementing two retakes per year for different classes, more students will be able to get their desired classes. This allows students to stay on track with graduation and can also help reduce student debt, as students would not be required to take on additional quarters.
Rising student debt is a major reason why these fees should not be executed. According to FinAid, a leading source of student financial aid information, nationwide student debt has reached over $1 trillion. The SQE survey shows that 68 percent of students stated that they would be required to take on more loans if the fees were implemented. As debts increase, students are more tempted to drop out of college. A survey by Duck9, a website dedicated to providing students information on staying out of debt, shows that the main reason for leaving college is financial pressure. However, the problem of dropouts extends farther than just the university. A report released in 2010, “The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates: How Much Does Dropping Out of College Really Cost?”, shows that $3.8 billion was lost in income and $566 million in federal income taxes because of one college class of dropouts in 2002. These fees proposed by the CSU Board of Trustees would only harm students, as well as the nation, in a time when debt has hit $15.86 trillion.
There are solutions that address the student debt crisis as well as graduation delays, unlike the “punishment fee” plan. In 2013, the University of Texas at Austin will test out a new program where they will forgive a portion of student loans for students who graduate within four years. With less than 30 percent of students graduating public Texas universities in four years and a little more than 50 percent graduating within six years, the institution recognizes that graduation delays are becoming a large problem throughout the nation. However, instead of trying to force additional fees on students, they motivate them to graduate on time by lowering student debt. While CSUs may not have the resources to pay off portions of student loans, they can offer different options to students. They can reevaluate their general education requirements and adjust it to give students a variety of options to fulfill a certain requirement, lessening the competition for a particular class. Incentives do not have to be strictly monetary.
Students should not be punished for being unable to graduate in time if obtaining a class is out of their control. With the current economic times, they are already struggling to pay tuition and more fees only add additional burden and debt. To encourage students to graduate within four years, the CSU Board of Trustees should be proposing an incentive that benefits rather than harms.