College credit system needs revision

From 2013–2014, full-time Columbia students coughed up $22,132 for tuition, a number that will increase to $22,884 in the next academic year. Students are looking to maximize the value of their education, but each semester, many full-time students are charged for credits they do not use— an extra $668 many can’t afford to waste.

All full-time Columbia students are billed a uniform price for 12 to 16 credit hours. Any student who wants to take more than 16 credits must pay $560 per extra credit hour, according to Student Financial Services. Most Columbia courses are worth 3 credits, meaning students are often forced to let their 16th paid credit go to waste. While basic math suggests lowering the full-time credit hour standard would be a quick fix for wasted tuition dollars, it would also unduly penalize students who are required to enroll in classes valued at four credits. Instead of reducing Columbia’s full-time tuition to cover 15, the college should increase its prepaid coverage to 18 hours.

Many students register in 15 credits each semester, the number required to graduate in four years, but adjusting the credit maximum to reflect that has the potential to limit students whose departments offer an abundance of four-credit courses—which would be nearly impossible to schedule without incurring extra costs for maxing out at 15 hours.

Because many courses are valued at three credits, arranging a 16-credit course load is difficult but not impossible. Some departments, such as the Photography Department, offer numerous one-credit class options, but students majoring in other departments such as cultural studies or interior architecture have few one-credit courses to choose from. 

Columbia should follow the example of many local colleges, such as DePaul and Roosevelt universities and the University of Illinois at Chicago, whose full-time tuitions cover 18 credits. Extending standard full-time credits could also increase retention and graduation rates by granting students more leeway to take classes that interest them and allowing them to engineer their schedules around each semester’s offerings. Not to mention many students would likely be able to complete their degrees in fewer than four years, an incentive for some students to stick around for the duration of their college careers. Only 40.6 percent of Columbia students who entered in 2007 graduated within six years, according to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, so the college needs any help it can get.

Columbia has a wide variety of students to accommodate, and it should revise its current credit system to suit the majority of students whose course requirements and financial situations limit them to taking only 15 of their 16 paid credits each semester. Including up to 18 credit hours in full-time tuition would give students more bang for their buck and boost the college’s graduation rate, a worthwhile investment that would not be a stretch from the current system.