Quest for Distinction fuels pay-per-credit proposal

Mechelle Hankerson
Executive Editor

Last semester, Tara Horan paid more than $13,000 in tuition to VCU.

As an out-of-state transfer student coming off a semester of studying abroad and recently adding a second major, Horan knew she would, at some point, have to take more classes than the average student.

When she transferred to VCU in the fall of 2010, she took an extra class to get used to the large university.

Now, with a new tuition proposal on the table, students like Horan could be looking at a new way of paying for their classes at VCU.

At a Williamsburg retreat for the Board of Visitors three weeks ago, vice president of finance and administration David Hanson suggested that VCU move toward a market-based tuition system, where students pay per credit for the courses they take.

In a meeting with students last week, Hanson and provost Beverly Warren told students the administration is leaning toward the pay-per-credit model.

“This is basically, you pay for what you consume,” Warren said at the meeting. “You will be charged smaller amounts for the number of credit hours rather than a larger flat-rate fee … in the long run you will actually save money … you will pay a little bit more per semester but you will save money on your entire schooling.”

Currently at VCU, undergraduate students can take up to 18 credits for the same flat rate and are charged an overload fee for taking more than 18 credits.

For out-of-state students like Horan, the overload fee is $886.46 per overload credit. A typical three-credit course would cost an out-of-state student an extra $2,659.38 on top of their $10,637.50 flat-rate of tuition.

For an in-state student, the overload fee is $327.50 per credit, on top of the $3,930 tuition charge.

The proposed change is similar to the way VCU charges students for summer tuition: if a student takes less than 11 credits, they are charged per credit. The fee for the summer 2013 semester is the same as the overload fee for this past academic year, according to Enrollment Services’ online tuition and fees calculator.

Horan, who took a nine-credit summer semester last summer, said she doesn’t think she can afford to pay for tuition on a per-credit basis.

“I could never do that again, it’s so expensive … compared to taking a lump sum of classes,” she said. “I looked into taking one (summer) class and it would’ve cost me (almost) $3,000.”

“(Paying per credit) would make me not want to be at VCU,” Horan said. “It would take me longer to graduate.”

VCU’s move toward the market-based tuition process isn’t an idea created by administrators, but comes from VCU’s strategic plan, the Quest for Distinction.

VCU uses six similar schools in its Quest for Distinction as a basis of comparison: University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Louisville, University of South Carolina at Columbia, University of South Florida and the University of Cincinnati.

The schools were chosen because of the size of their student body, the structure of the university and the presence of programs or initiatives VCU would like to mimic.

Of those six schools, two of them — Birmingham and Louisville — use a ‘market-based,’ or pay-per-credit, tuition system. The other schools use a system similar to VCU’s current billing system, charging a flat rate for tuition up to a certain number of overload credits. At USC-Columbia and Cincinnati, that cutoff is 12. At Southern Florida, the cutoff is 15. UIC divides students into ‘ranges’ and charges students different prices determined by the number of credits a student enrolls in.

VCU’s proposal will have to be approved by the Board of Visitors at their meeting on May 10, where they will also be setting tuition prices for next school year. In his proposal to the Board of Visitors at the Williamsburg retreat, Hanson mentioned 15 credits as the cutoff point if VCU decides to move toward a pay-per-credit system. His proposal is not final and the details of the actual process could change, depending on what the Board of Visitors discusses and decides.

According to VCU’s Office of Planning and Decision Support, there are currently 10,129 undergraduate, degree-seeking students who are enrolled in 15 credits or more.

“The pros and cons to this really come down to are we willing to charge students as consumers for what they consume knowing that the kids who take 15, 16, 17 hours are going to be paying a little bit more than the current pricing schedule,” Hanson said at the retreat.

In addition to the new billing systems, Hanson suggested increasing tuition, charging more for on-campus parking and running a full schedule of summer classes to make up for budget shortfalls next year.

All proposals will have to be discussed and approved by the Board of Visitors at their meeting May 10. If passed, the per-credit proposal would likely not affect current students.

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