Students will be charged for earning excess credit hours

Freshman and transfer students enrolling for the first time in Florida state universities and community colleges beginning in the 2009-10 academic school year will be susceptible to a surcharge for extra credit hours.

If a student exceeeds 120 percent of the number of credit hours required to earn their baccalaureate degree, then they are required to pay an additional 50 percent for each credit hour earned in excess.

According to the University Controller’s Office Web site, students will be charged an extra $44.29 per excess credit hour in 2009-10. Glen Besterfield, associate dean of undergraduate studies, said this number will increase as tuition rates escalate in the next few years.

Besterfield said a typical degree is earned in 120 credit hours, so a student might pay excess charges if he or she were to earn more than 144 hours.

“When you have students who … are graduating in 170, 180 hours, what they are doing is taking seats in classrooms away from other students,” Besterfield said. “So now we have an access issue – we can’t admit more students if we’ve got students hanging around here longer than necessary to get their degree.”

Director of the Registrar’s Office, Angela DeBose, said action will be taken if a student fails to pay the excess hours surcharge.

“There would be a hold on the student’s record that would prevent them from having certain privileges, like registration and the ability to obtain a transcript,” DeBose said. “Their diploma could potentially be held if they’re at the point of graduation or earning a degree until the payment is made.”

When calculating the amount of credit hours earned, all credits taken at the state university will be counted – including failed courses, classes dropped after the add/drop deadline and repeated courses.

However, classes repeated more than twice will be exempt because students are required to pay tuition at 100 percent of the full cost of instruction upon enrolling in the course the third time

“The state has thought this out pretty well. We don’t want to harm certain students,” Besterfield said. “Who you do want to charge extra are those students who have been at this University for so long because they have changed their major five or six times and they have accrued so many credits that don’t count towards their degree.”

The excess hours surcharge was enacted by the 2009 Florida Legislature under Senate Bill 1696. The bill also includes revisions to the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program and Florida residency requirements for the in-state tuition rate.

Gov. Charlie Crist approved the bill May 27.

According to the legislation, credit hours that fall under certain categories will not be counted in the excess hours total.

Transfer credits not applied to the final degree program, credits earned through an “articulated accelerated mechanism” such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate and credit hours earned through internship programs will be exempt from the total.

Also exempt are credit hours required for “certification, recertification or certificate programs,” those taken by active-duty military personnel, remedial and English as a Second Language (ESOL) credits and credit hours required to achieve a double major.

Military science courses included in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program will not be included in ROTC students’ credit hour total.

Courses that a student must withdraw from because of medical or personal hardship reasons also might not be counted.

The Academic Regulations Committee (ARC), comprised mostly of academic advisers, must review individual students’ medical withdrawal hardships, Besterfield said.

The ARC consults with the professor, and typically it is only considered medical hardship when a student withdraws from all courses, he said.

Besterfield said there are thousands of USF students staying in college longer than needed to earn their degree.

“Some people would allude to the current economy. They can’t get a job, so they’re staying in college,” Besterfield said. “This is not based upon the current economy … we saw this years ago. Many students change their majors, they withdraw from a lot of courses, they fail a lot of courses – I think it’s a multitude of factors.”

In the next two years, transfer students will likely be the first affected by the excess hours surcharge, Besterfield said. However, if students meet with their academic adviser and take degree-applicable courses, he said they’re likely not to be affected.

“There will probably be 10 percent of students that will be affected by this, and probably rightfully so in many instances,” Besterfield said. “They should have graduated already, they should have met with their academic adviser, they should have planned their college years a little bit better, they should have focused a little bit more.”

Under the Senate bill, all state universities are required to notify students of the surcharge when they first enroll in the institution and again when they have earned the number of credit hours required for their baccalaureate degree program.

DeBose said the Online Access Student Information System (OASIS) will be used to monitor students’ credit hours.

“If a student nears or approaches where they’re about to trigger excess hours, we’re going to notify them,” DeBose said. “They’re going to also see the charge on their student account.”

The USF Office of the Registrar sent a mass e-mail Aug. 11 notifying undergraduate students of the excess hours surcharge.