Both the VCU community and individual students face tough financial times ahead, times made more complicated by the economic diversity of our student body. Some of us are part-time students, slowly working our way through school, while working full time; some of us are full time students, looking to rapidly join the postgraduate world.
Our needs, aspirations and requirements are all distinct, so aligning university policies and standards to encompass the needs of the majority is difficult, to say the least.
So, to address annual cuts from federal and state governments to universities and university students, VCU’s administration is looking at restructuring how we pay for classes and how all parties involved can maximize benefits.
In addition to the rise in cost for on-campus parking, the push for students to take more summer classes and the 4 percent increase in tuition, the administration may alter the basis for how we pay for tuition. The plan would switch us from a flat rate system with all students paying a price that is independent from the number of credit hours they take, to a pay per credit hour system.
Most degrees at VCU require students to complete 120 credit hours. At a rate of about $400 per credit hour, most degrees would cost at least $48,000, for tuition only. That’s $12,000 per year, if you want to graduate in four years. For those looking to graduate in six, that’s $8,000, assuming there are no special fees for students that choose the long route.
Logically, the plan makes sense. It would, conceivably, be cheaper for the average student taking 15 credits a semester to pay by credit hour and graduate in four years.
But therein lies the problem with the proposal: The idea of the “average” student is changing. The upfront cost of tuition and fees for a semester, under the proposed plan, might be too high for students.
Graduating in four years, while ideal, isn’t the benchmark of success as a student. Having the option of taking anywhere between 12 and 18 credit hours is evidence of how all students learn at different paces. That truth is further complicated by the fact that some students work full-time jobs to put themselves through college.
Pushing students to take more credit hours per semester is setting them up for failure. Four classes, student organization activities and a part-time job consumes enough of a student’s time; asking them to do more will inevitably cause them to falter in some other aspect of their lives.
Although the proposed budget solution isn’t set in stone, it’s important to note that this solution strikes a line in the sand: If VCU goes through with this, they’re making a statement about their belief regarding the nature of public universities, their own students and their relationship to the state. If the state pushes, the students get shoved.
What we should also be reevaluating is the idea of a four-year degree. For students coming to VCU, our campus is a land of opportunity and education is but a plot. The factors that breed quality, substantive and employable students isn’t how quickly they earned their degree, but the quality of their extracurricular experiences here, including work in student organizations, internships, volunteer opportunities and relevant work experience.
Graduating more students in a four-year period will make us less valuable as students and potential employees Regardless of if you’re a self-sufficient student or not, the proposal to pay per credit hour will affect you in a dramatic manner, either by pushing you out the door faster, forcing you to work harder or outright increasing the amount you pay.
A full proposal goes before the Board of Visitors on May 10. Believe it or not, the administration and members of the Board are susceptible to student opinions, hence the numerous student surveys they send out. If you feel like their proposal is a problem, you have a responsibility to let them know.