UTPA moves to reduce unnecessary credits
In two years students who exceed 150 hours before graduating will see their bill increase more dramatically.
The University administration along with the Student Government Association voted to increase extra credit-hour tuition, the fee applied after a student has hit their hour limit, from $90 a credit hour to $363.
After the 2005 Texas Legislature prohibited universities from requiring more that 120 hours for a degree, UTPA departments reduced all degree plans to comply with the rule. On top of the 120 hours, students are given an additional 30- to 45-hour cushion, depending on when they enrolled, until they must pay the excessive credit-hour tuition.
UTPA President Robert Nelsen said that the University was increasing excessive credit-hour tuition to enforce the existing legislation and help students graduate on time.
“This is a law that came into effect a while ago, it was just never enforced at Pan Am. We just let it go on and on and on, and it’s been to the detriment of our students,” he said. “If I had it my way and I could just have a magic wand, I would want everybody to be able to graduate in four years so they can move on with their lives, but a lot of our students can’t. They’re working, they’ve got children. But I don’t want them taking a course, especially if they’re working, and take the extra burden of that course and that course doesn’t count towards their degree. That’s wrong.”
The reason for the increase is two-fold. First, the state of Texas does not reimburse UTPA for credit hours after 150, so UTPA must foot the entire bill. Rather than shoulder this cost, the University decided to follow other Texas institutions and charge the out-of-state rate for excessive credit hours.
“We compared ourselves to the rest of the state and the rest of the UT System, and we’re doing what everybody else is doing. Some people don’t like that,” Nelsen said. “One student in particular said, ‘Let’s be different than everybody else.’ A lot of times we need to be different, but what we’re trying to do is change a behavior, and we know it works in other places.”
Second, students are taking more hours than are needed to graduate. According to Nelsen, students at UTPA on average attempt 165 hours when the average degree is 120, which roughly translates to three extra semesters. Further compounding the problem for students, financial aid typically only pays up to 150 hours.
“(Taking 45 extra hours) puts the student in debt. We are trying to stop the student from going in debt,” the president said.
Larissa Almanza, a sophomore studio art major, said that while the new rate is a large jump from the old one, it is understandable in some cases.
“If you’re beating around the bush and don’t know what you want to do, it affects you,” she said. “But if you already know what you’re going to do and are not wasting your time taking extra credit hours, then it shouldn’t affect you at all.”
The increase would primarily affect transfer students and students who change their major late in their academic career, according to Marilyn Hagerty, director of the Office of Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Studies.
Transfer students from community or junior college sometimes come to UTPA with upward of 100 hours already under their belt, leaving little room to complete their four-year degree, Hagerty said. Students who change majors in their third or fourth year, especially with a transition to a different college, are susceptible to excessive credit-hour tuition because they might have to retake certain core specialty classes, such as business calculus for example, for their new major.
According to Nelsen, the administration did a study to see specifically how many students would be affected by the increase in excessive credit hour tuition. The study found the number to be approximately 118, less than one percent of the student population.
The Cost of Education Committee and the Student Government Association held forums Nov. 28 and 29 to discuss the changes and a poll to get students’ opinion on the issues. A handful of students attended the forums, and less than one percent of the student population took the poll, which was open to all 19,100 students at utpa.edu/coec.
There are concerns over the increase, such as a lack of advisement support for students and what Nelsen admitted was a quicker than usual decision.
“I think it would be helpful if we had a graduated way to increase it,” Hagerty said. “Not going from $90 to $300 all of a sudden, but allow students time to make the adjustment.”
Excessive credit-hour tuition is linked with advisement, the meeting with academic counselors prior to a student being able to register for classes, because some feel that students are taking extraneous classes due to bad undergraduate advisement.
Artemio Zavala, a sophomore pre-med biology major, said he didn’t find his undergraduate advisement experience helpful.
“When I showed up, the only thing I was (told) was as long as I have enough hours between 12 and 18, I’m good. My advisement probably took about 30 seconds,” the 26-year-old said. “I did research on my own and figured out what classes I have to take, and I have planned it out. It took a couple of days to figure it out, (but now I’m) all set for classes I need to take for the next two years.”
Nelsen said the University is aware of problems with advisement in the past and the new increase in tuition will go both to a $500 stipend for students who take at least 15 hours a semester, and to make changes to advisement.
Namely, the advisers are being consolidated into a more cohesive unit and are being cross-trained to work with different grade levels and majors. The University is also planning on implementing a new online program called DegreeWorks that will allow students to take a more hands-on role in advisement.
“The student will be able to run a what-if scenario. ‘What if I take this course? Or what if I change my major? How many hours will it take or how much more will it cost me?’” Nelsen explained. “Plus on top of that, the adviser will be able to post a note to the student saying you shouldn’t be taking this course, or you need to see me. There’s communication, almost like Facebook — back and forth where you’re communicating. That will be a big improvement.”
In regard to excessive credit hours, Nelsen said that the University wants to make sure that students are getting everything they can from their classes, and Hagerty agreed.
“(I would tell students) make any course you take count,” she said. “That’s where (advisers) can help you so you don’t have to retake classes, and so it’s going towards what you want as your career goal.”