Officials explore logistics of free 18th credit

Media Credit: Keegan Mullen | Staff Photographer

Sophomore Nick Jin, a SEAS student, took 19 credits both semesters of his first year, which he said allowed him to take a cello and chamber music course.

Officials are taking the first steps to allow all undergraduates to take a free 18th credit.

Amid increased pressure from student leaders to expand the 17-credit cap, administrators said they’re looking into the logistics of implementing a free 18th credit to make it easier for students to pursue multiple majors or graduate early. The move follows overwhelming approval for a free 18th credit during the Student Association election last academic year – about 96 percent of students said they supported the measure and 54 percent indicated they would use it if given the opportunity.

Provost Forrest Maltzman said that University President Thomas LeBlanc asked officials to evaluate the cost of upping the credit cap after SA leaders approached him about the topic last academic year.

“The reason to allow students to take 18 credits is that it will further facilitate the ability for students to pursue their academic aspirations,” he said in an email.

Outside of the Honors Program and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences – both of which offer students an exception to take more than 17 credits – Maltzman said about 200 students paid to take more than 17 credits last year.

Maltzman declined to say when it would be possible to implement the credit or how he will work with the Student Association to implement the free credit.

Student support
SA leaders said that because officials are researching the plausibility of the 18th credit this semester, student leaders may be able to roll out a pilot program by next academic year.

Former SA leaders submitted a report to the Board of Trustees in May including recommendations to implement a free 18th hour, like a pilot program for students with a 3.6 GPA or higher to apply for the additional credit.

SA President Ashley Le said that SA leaders “heard reassurance” from officials that they would move forward with a free 18th credit. Le said the SA will pitch ideas to administrators about how to best launch the credit program during a regular meeting this month.

“They heard loud and clear this is something that students wanted and that students should take advantage of it, should it become available for all students,” Le said.

Currently, students who are taking a four-credit University Writing course or who are enrolled in the Honors Program or SEAS are allowed to take more than 17 credits without incurring the extra fee. All other students are required to pay $1,575 per additional credit, according to the academic advising website.

The current policy also requires approval from academic advisers for students to take additional credits. But SA leaders said they wouldn’t change the approval requirement to ensure that students talk with advisers about managing time or academic standing before taking on the extra commitment.

SA Chief of Cabinet Yannik Omictin, who helped draft the original proposal to the Board of Trustees last academic year, said the movement for credit expansion was propelled after last year’s SA elections, when students overwhelmingly indicated that they supported a policy change.

“For us, it’s an easy issue because you look at all the other schools in our market basket and just in general, and you don’t see these kinds of ridiculous fees that are imposed to take more credits,” Omictin said.

All of GW’s 12 peer institutions offer a free 18th credit for all undergraduates.

Exploring interests
For students, the 18th credit is an opportunity to pursue classes outside of their major or quickly check off major and minor requirements.

Junior Allegra Smart, who is graduating a year early, said she paid to take 18 credit hours during both semesters of her sophomore year. After taking 12 credit hours during both semesters of her freshman year, Smart said she needed to up her course load during her second year to ensure she could graduate early.

“It added money that I owe to the school, but at the same time, I didn’t really have a choice because I can’t afford to stay for a fourth year,” Smart said.

But for students in the Honors or SEAS programs – who can take up to 18 credits in their first four semesters or up to 19 credits per semester, respectively – another credit gives them an opportunity to explore major and minor interests they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Sophomore Nicky Cacchione, an honors student majoring in business, said the higher credit cap allowed him to explore classes in philosophy that he couldn’t with a 17-credit cap. With an 18th credit, Cacchione said he could choose to take electives, like Spanish, instead of only taking required courses.

“I’m not behind – I don’t have to be a fifth-year senior – and it technically saves me money in the long run,” Cacchione said.

Sophomore Nick Jin, a SEAS student, took 19 credits both semesters of his first year, which he said allowed him to take a cello and a chamber music course on top of his computer-focused requirements.

“If people don’t want to put that load on themselves, that should be their own choice to make,” he said. “But, for example, if you did want to take something like cello or a one-credit class on top of everything, I think it would be really nice,” Jin said.

Leveling disparities
Higher education experts said the move would level out tuition disparities among honors, SEAS and all other undergraduates under the same fixed tuition by allowing every student to take the same number of credit hours.

David Holman, a research associate at the Center of College Affordability and Productivity who conducted a study on tuition models at public colleges, said more students could graduate on time with an additional credit every semester. At Case Western University – which has no cap on the number of credits – nearly 25 percent of students are enrolled in more than 17 credits, he said.

“Students do react if they’re given the opportunity to take more credit hours,” he said.

But Pradeep Rau, a professor of marketing and international business, said that while an 18th credit may appear free, if students are overwhelmed by their course load and drop a class, the financial advantage of the credit disappears.

“If you make this 18 credits rule a blanket rule, it may actually encourage some students to overstretch in the spirit of trying to get three more credits for free after 15,” he said.

Richard Vedder, an economics expert at Ohio University, said an 18th credit could have “moderately noticeable short-term financial effects” for the University, depending on the number of students who take advantage of a new policy. If 100 students take advantage of an 18th credit, the University could lose about $200,000, he said.

“With a budget of 700 million, maybe a billion – it’s not any big deal,” he said. “But if you’re talking 500 students, or 1,000 students, or 2,000 students, it starts to make some difference.”

Sarah Roach contributed reporting.

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