Jan 27th, 2004 @ 8:41 am | Author:
I could pin it all on Shirley, but it is much more complicated than that.

This week I made a controversial announcement on campus. Coincidentally, I also met Shirley, the mom of a student whose situation illustrates why I made the announcement. Shirley’s son got a whopper of a tuition bill last fall. He is a full-time student majoring in our new technology education program, which is offered primarily online. His usual tuition bill would be $1326 for one full-time semester of 12 or more credits. This year, we charged him that amount plus the per-credit distance delivery rate (much higher) for each of his online courses.

At first, I thought his situation was due to a problem with the new statewide administrative software that we are among the first to use. Instead the problem was due to the rapidly increasing complexity of college enrollment options, together with the rules we use to charge tuition. By our rules, online is online, whether the student is on campus or in Florida. All online courses carry per-credit tuition, no matter how many you take. Online tuition does not plateau at the full-time 12-credit level, as does the tuition for on-campus courses. We were using two very different pricing systems without considering the possibility that one individual might be subject to both.

Then we realized that the same situation would apply to people who might be enrolled simultaneously in any local college and online elsewhere. For them, VCSU could be either the home campus or the distant campus. We tried hard to get our systems and the software to line up in ways that would minimize the impact on students of all kinds. Meanwhile, we asked a group of faculty, staff, and students to help us find the best way to deal with the problem.

My charge to them was that the system needed to be simple and fair to students in all sorts of different situations. The group was unable to complete its work in time for a state deadline to submit tuition proposals for 2004-2005. The State Board of Higher Education has final authority over tuition at each state campus. They will vote on that issue on February 19 in Minot.

The only strategy that we could come up with for simplicity and fairness is to charge by the credit hour for all students. That way, each student pays for what he or she consumes in academic resources. The per-credit approach is quite common nationally, and I predict that most or all of the other state campuses will make this change as they adopt the new software in the next year or two.

The executive team decided that we needed to make that recommendation. We set the rate so that students taking 15 credits hours will pay slightly less than they would have paid for 12 or more credits under the old system. The rate is revenue-neutral to the university. If student enrollment next year matches this year, the university’s total revenue will be the same as if we had not changed the system.

This is a major step, especially for students who take heavy loads each semester. Scholarships will be especially important for them. The university has just reduced significantly the number of credits required for graduation in most fields, which should help. We are committed to additional measures that will help ensure continued exceptional value and a smooth transition for students.