Student leaders said they celebrated a “win” last week after the University’s top governing body voted to allow students to take a free 18th credit next fall.
The Board of Trustees voted Friday to allow students to take one additional credit each semester beginning next academic year without incurring a more than $1,500 fee. Student leaders said the move is the result of months of student advocacy work that culminated in a tangible institutional change – the latest in a series of student-led projects that have come to fruition in recent months.
“It’s a great move, and I commend the students, their advocacy for their fellow students through the work they did,” Nelson Carbonell, the board’s chairman, said.
Officials said they were exploring the logistics of offering an additional credit for students last month following a yearlong push from Student Association leaders to raise the credit cap. About 96 percent of students said in a referendum last spring that they supported an 18th credit and 54 percent of students indicated that they would use the extra credit if given the opportunity.
By the end of the academic year, student leaders had mapped out ways to increase the credit cap for all students in a report given to the board in May.
‘Wins for the student body’
The increased credit cap follows a wave of institutional changes made as a result of student-led initiatives last academic year. Student leaders said officials’ approval of the 18th credit demonstrates University President Thomas LeBlanc’s willingness to look at students’ wishes with a fresh eye and aid students.
“The 18th credit – we talked about it for a long time and it hasn’t always been successful when we brought it up to administrators,” SA President Ashley Le said. “But the fact that it did this year shows that the University is changing, and it’s changing in a way that puts student voices and concerns as a priority.”
During LeBlanc’s first year, officials have institutionalized several SA initiatives, including an academic resource center in May and a sustainable investment fund in April. Officials also boosted dining dollars in the spring in response to student concerns about food insecurity and overhauled the Colonial Health Center after months of student advocacy work.
Former SA President Peak Sen Chua, who pushed for a free 18th credit last academic year, said the 18th credit is the result of SA leaders being persistent with officials about their initiatives and collaborating directly with a University president who listened and responded to their ideas.
“The fact that we were able to roll out so many projects showed that we were intentional and proactive about coming up with ideas, taking in concepts, doing the research, proving our point with administrators and getting those projects done,” Chua said.
Under previous SA leaders, the University approved an extended break during Columbus Day weekend and rolled out a forgiveness policy that allows students to retake a course they took their freshman year in which they received a D+ or lower.
Sydney Nelson, the SA’s former executive vice president, said the approval of the extra credit is a “really good example” of how student leaders can take student voices and “speak up” for their wishes.
“We were creating conversations with students and with student groups on campus to make sure we had a coalition of support and then utilizing all avenues of advocacy to really push these projects along and make wins for the student body,” Nelson said.
Waiving the extra cost
LeBlanc said the financial impact of implementing a free 18th credit will be “relatively modest,” but he declined to say how much the 18th credit would cost the University because it depends on the number of students that tack on the extra credit.
“We are good at thinking about the impact on finances – let’s get good at thinking about the impact on students,” he said. “In this case, we understood the impact on the finances, which you need to balance. We also understood the need for this and the positive impact for the students.”
He said that when officials were considering expanding the credit cap, they gathered data about the current policy – which caps the number of free credits at 17 – and found that about two-thirds of all students were already receiving waivers to enroll in a free 18th credit.
Currently, students who are in the University Honors Program or the School of Engineering and Applied Science, as well as students taking a University Writing course, can take more than 17 credits without incurring the fee.
Once officials noticed how many students were already asking to take 18 credits without paying, LeBlanc said “it seemed like it was a very reasonable decision.”
Chua, the former SA president, said student leaders needed to “break through the argument” that the extra credit could pose a financial burden on the University or cause students to overload their work each semester.
“By charging a fee for the credit, you’re also telling students that education – which is what they come here to the University to pursue – there’s a premium on that, and I think that’s sending a wrong message to students,” he said.
The impact of an extra credit
Le, the SA president, said the free 18th credit will eliminate a financial burden for students, especially for those who come from low-income families. She said the board’s approval indicates that officials “prioritize the idea of affordability” for all students.
“This policy is an affirmation that the University, across every level, is committed to providing services and providing resources and support to what students seek to achieve for every student,” Le said.
Peter Moore, the associate provost for curricular innovation and policy at Southern Methodist University, said the increased credit cap will allow students who come from low-income families to cover their tuition. The policy could also benefit students who do not receive any financial aid or scholarships and do not want to pay for an additional credit, he said.
“That gives students a little more room without having to pay more to actually do more, so I think the GW students will benefit greatly from that,” Moore said.
But some higher education experts said that while the new credit-hour cap could help students in certain cases, the policy could also pressure students into overworking themselves if the credit cap became the new norm on campus.
Steven Wilson, the assistant provost for academic affairs and registrar at Lehigh University, said the extra credit could help students graduate early or save money depending on their personal academic plans.
Students who take fewer courses while studying abroad, hold internships that limit their available class time, pursue dual degrees or plan to graduate early can benefit from the change, Wilson said.
But he added that credit-hour caps are sometimes instituted to prevent students from drowning themselves in coursework, which could do more harm than good.
“Students get so far over their heads in doing the workload for classes that we really don’t think that it’s good for their success rate and their career on campus,” he said.
Leah Potter and Parth Kotak contributed reporting.
This article appeared in the October 22, 2018 issue of the Hatchet.