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Students feel pressures of excess credit hour charges

It’s not uncommon for students to change their major or explore other interests in coursework, but doing so makes it difficult for students to stay under 120 credit hours – after that, students will pay more for each excess hour.

One student at UCF is fed up with the excess credit hour surcharges placed on students who surpass the allotted hours and is petitioning to change that. 

Under state statute 1009.286, all undergraduate coursework completed at a state university must not exceed a designated number of credit hours. The number depends on the degree. According to the statute, the intent of the state is to encourage students to complete their degrees in the most efficient way possible. 

Ramon Jimenez, a junior at UCF majoring in electrical engineering, transferred in with an associate’s degree from a local college. 

Already having earned 90 credit hours from his previous institution, he was quickly approaching the 128-credit hour baseline designated for his degree.

While the university allowed him to finish his degree without the surcharge, he said he is not able to take courses of other interests such as computer science or mechanical engineering because it would take his credits over the limit.

“The college experience is about finding yourself, finding out what you want to be in society and I think that this law is robbing that from us,” Jimenez said.

Frustrated by what he sees as an injustice, Jimenez began a petition on to remove or amend the excess credit hour surcharge. Since its creation in August of this year, the petition has received just over 5,000 of the 20,000 signatures needed as of Wednesday afternoon.

“I personally face 30 hours of excess credit surcharges in the coming year because those credits in particular were not counted towards my electrical engineering degree at the University of Central Florida. Normally this would cost about $6,150, but with this law it would cost about $12,300,” Jimenez wrote in the petition. 

Although Jimenez is a student at UCF, the statute applies to all institutions in the State University System,
including USF.

Florida is not the only state to enact an excess credit hour surcharge law. 

Both Virginia and Utah have similar state mandates, and Appalachian State University in North Carolina chooses to apply a surcharge for excess credit hours.

Under Florida statutes, students who began their undergraduate degrees in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years will be charged an extra 50 percent of every credit hour exceeding 120 percent of the allotted credits for their degree.

Students starting in the 2011-12 academic year, however, students began having to pay double tuition for exceeding 115 percent of the allotted credit hours.

Anyone who started in the 2012-13 year will be charged double tuition for every credit hour in excess of 110 percent of the program. 

This means that, under current tuition prices, a USF-Tampa student and Florida resident who started in Fall 2012 will be required to pay roughly $6,300 for a semester’s tuition alone after going over the excess credit hour cap. A non-Florida resident would pay more than $17,000.

Apart from encouraging students to complete their degree in a timely manner, the “efficiency” that the statute emphasizes is also a matter of money.

According to the Florida Office of Student Financial Assistance, in the 2012-13 academic year, the state funded over 290,000 students with state, federal and private funds amounting to $569,487,344. 

USF junior Shelby Thomas said she signed the petition for a friend who is currently affected by the law, but she said she also has some qualms with the statute’s affect on student learning.

“With this law, you are being punished for being curious … and in a sense it actually impedes your right to an education,” she said.

Thomas, who is currently studying Japanese in Japan, said she will have to return to the U.S. as a result of the law, or else she will be forced to pay the credit surcharge out of pocket.

“Being an international business major, I have a foreign language requirement included in my degree. With the law, when you read it, it doesn’t have any amendments for students who want to pursue a language and it doesn’t say anything about honors classes either,” she said.

Thomas also described having friends who were unable to continue studying Japanese with her because they did not have the credits available to them.

“The federal government emphasizes that many of these languages taught at USF – Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean – are all critical languages for the United States,” she said. “Yet, Florida can’t provide the opportunity for students to learn that other states can because of this law.”

Jimenez has reached out to state and local legislators about the issue but has not received any word back. He expects to see greater action taking place in the spring and said he will lobby as far as he needs to in order to see a change to the policy.