Any student crossing into the Student Services building on the USF Tampa campus has likely seen the green and white flyers that read, “STOP PAYING MORE FOR YOUR DEGREE. AVOID EXCESS HOURS.” In fact, any student who attends orientation has met with an academic advisor or has been enrolled in any Florida university since 2009 should understand this memo. However, students should not have to abstain from earning additional credit hours to avoid paying more for their degree.
Florida Statute 1009.286, which was originally enacted in 2009, states, “it is the intent of the Legislature to encourage each undergraduate student who enrolls in a state university to complete the student’s respective baccalaureate degree program in the most efficient way possible while providing for access to additional college coursework. Therefore, the Legislature intends to enact a policy that provides incentives for efficient baccalaureate degree completion.”
This legislation requires students to pay additional fees if 120 hours are exceeded. Students are allowed to exceed credit hours by 10 percent before the rule is implemented. This includes attempted hours for failed or dropped courses, as well as students who pursue double majors or multiple degrees. According to USF’s Office of Academic Advocacy website, Students who pursue double majors are allowed 30 more hours than what is required by their first major and will be charged the excess credit hour surcharge if they do not complete their second major or degree by graduation.
This “incentive” to push students toward graduation appears more like a financial punishment for students who may struggle to find the right major or have difficulty completing courses. It also acts to de-incentivize students aiming to double major or earn multiple degrees. According to the USF Operating Budget for 2017-2018, students paid a total of $1,343,012 in excess credit hour surcharges in the previous school year.
Many students seek the opportunity for exploration upon entering college. It is not unusual for a 18-year-old freshmen to be unsure of their future career trajectory. Mandating that this type of student immediately declare a major and focus on a linear four-year path to a specific degree completion so they can avoid paying more for said degree — that is likely already accumulating debt — is illogical: decisions change and new interests emerge. College is a time to navigate these obstacles into a future a student can be satisfied with — without the burden of excess debt.
The “traditional” student is also changing. While many students aim to graduate in four years, this is not always possible. According to a report by Complete College America, only 19 percent of full-time students in public universities earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. Laws should reflect the changing dynamics of its current pool of students. Many students work or go to school part-time.
If the aim of this legislation is to promote faster graduation, it does not benefit those who already take longer to complete their degrees because of higher education costs.
This legislation should be repealed, or at the very least revised, to accommodate for the types of students this legislation impacts most. It should account for major reselection and allot more time for major declaration.
A more effective measure would be to allot more excess credits to be earned before a surcharge is to be added. More leeway could give those students who aim to double major or earn multiple degrees an opportunity to do so without paying in excess and would also give students who change majors more chances to secure their academic path.
It is not uncommon for students to fail or drop courses while they figure out their futures. Students at USF change their majors an average of three times over the duration of their college career, according to the Office of Academic Advocacy website.
It is also not uncommon for students that have a clear picture of their academic and professional goals to pursue double majors or multiple degrees. Neither type of student should be punished for the paths they’ve taken by being made to pay in excess for their degrees.
Paige Wisniewski is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary sciences.