Orem • A sixth or seventh year of college could double the tuition bill for Utah students, under changes adopted by the state Board of Regents on Friday.
Last year, legislative auditors faulted Utah colleges and universities for failing to enforce a long-standing policy to impose a stiff surcharge on students whose credits exceed 135 percent of that required for completing their degrees. The purpose of the original rule was not simply to raise revenue, but to give students a financial incentive to stay on track for timely graduation.
"There were assumptions that we have all these students overloading on courses. It was a tiny minority," said Teddi Safman, assistant commissioner for academic affairs.
In the past, administrators have been loath to punish students whose intellectual curiosity, double majors or credits earned elsewhere inflate their bag of credit hours beyond the 120 needed for a bachelor's degree.
To address lawmakers' concerns, college and university provosts spent a year drafting policy language that is hoped will balance the competing values at stake. It was approved Friday by the Regents, meeting at Utah Valley University.
The new policy lowers the threshold to 125 percent, which still allows for a fifth year of school at low in-state tuition, and requires schools to notify students of the policy when enrolling.
"It says to us, 'You need to get the advising straight.' Start it early on so students are making good choices," said Martha Bradley, the U.'s associate vice president for academic affairs.
The new policy also carves out numerous exemptions. Credits that won't count toward the threshold include those earned in high school through concurrent enrollment and advanced placement exams; those needed to complete dual majors, one minor and double degrees; and those associated with a "defensible" switch in major.
Administrators cautioned that the policy may not raise much revenue, if any, due to the staff time needed to determine which of a tarrying student's credits are exempt. This is because most Utah students have acquired credits in high school or at institutions other than the one where they are completing their degree.
Nor does the policy mandate schools to impose the surcharge which would raise an in-state U. student's tuition from $6,200 to $12,400. Schools will have discretion in deciding who to penalize. The main goal of the policy is to encourage school procedures that will minimize the amount of class time students take up on their way to graduation.
"Some of these things are out of our control," Safman added. She pointed to family hardships, students leaving school to have children or serve a church mission, and the malleability of a 20-year-old's mind. Schools should allow some leeway for students to explore the academic landscape and expand their world views, Safman said.
"Their brains aren't fully formed until they are 22 and we expect them to know exactly what they want to do with very little experience," Safman said.