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SGA survey prompts discussion on increasing credit-hour cap

After reviewing its credit hour survey, Student Government Association is preparing legislation for a recommendation to administration about increasing the current 16 credit-hour cap to 18 hours.

Ninety-three percent of students said the current threshold influenced decision-making when choosing classes according to survey results.

Sixty-three percent of students wanted the new credit-hour cap to be 18 hours. Eighty-eight percent of students said they would accept a one-time increase in tuition in exchange for a higher maximum credit-hour threshold.

SGA will vote on legislation for a recommendation on March 16, said Director of Policy Review Justin Smith.

“I’m incredibly pleased as to the number of responses that we had. I was glad that over 1,100 students cared enough to take our survey to provide us with feedback,” Smith said. “I sort of intuitively thought that this was the answer that I was expecting, but now we have quantitative data that says ‘Hey, this is what we think students want.’”

Currently, for every course over the 16-hour limit, students pay $1,040.

In comparison to other schools in its classification system– called New American Colleges and Universities– Belmont had one of the lowest maximum number of credit hours at 16, Smith said.

Belmont also had the fifth lowest price per credit hour among the 21 colleges in the system.

Smith and Policy Review Committee Chairman Braden Stover met with Provost Dr. Thomas Burns on Feb. 9 to present student responses from the survey.

Burns will pass the information along to senior leadership.

Smith has been in contact with Burns and SGA adviser Sara Stacy since the resolution was passed last semester.

“They were definitely interested. Specifically, they are ready and interested to discuss the results of this survey and what it could mean for the policy,” he said.

Although the written comments from students in the survey gave administration some fresh perspective, the pricing was still a major concern, Burns said.

“A lot of students found an increase in the number of credit hours appealing, but the way the survey questions were asked was a bit misleading,” Burns said. “I would’ve like to have known what the students would’ve said if the true costs would’ve been represented.”

The income Belmont received from classes taken over 16 hours was approximately $2,300,000 for the 2013-2014 school year.

A single one-time increase wouldn’t cover the current deficit, he said.

“We could increase tuition a whole lot, but I don’t think that’s what we want to do.”

When working with administration, Smith recognized Burns’s concerns but also maintained confidence of the original plan that the one-time cost increase will replace the lost income from students taking credit hours over the threshold.

“From the very beginning, the concern that we have been very mindful of is that there’s real money attached to this policy,” Smith said. “When students pay that fee to take more than 16 credit hours, that is money that goes to the university and is spent by the university.”

But the one-time tuition increase of $135 for 17 credit hours and $287 for 18 credit hours each undergraduate student would pay if the policy was put in place would cover the $2,300,000 deficit, Smith said.

Belmont’s current credit hour cap is set at 16 hours because the average number of hours required for a major is 128, and 16 hours divides evenly among the 8 semesters, Burns said.

In the 2013-2014 school year, only 15 percent of students took over 16 hours. Despite the fact that 93 percent of students said the current threshold influenced their decision making in registration, catering to only the current 15 percent of the population made administration hesitant to change, Burns said.

“We’re open to conversation with students about what the options are, but it needs to address the real cost to the university and the student. That’s the biggest concern that I have about the survey.”

Increasing credit hours would not only significantly affect tuition pricing but it would also affect class size, faculty ratio and class availability, Burns said.

“I‘m glad that they are interested in trying to represent student voice, but I’m concerned that the questions they’re asking are misleading.”

Assistant Dean of Students Angie Bryant approved the questions before the SGA released the survey to students, said Braden Stover, chairman of the Judicial Review Board.

One student and participant in the survey, sophomore Catarina Mushcaweck, said the one-time increase would save her money in the end.

As a double major in corporate communication and public relations, if she misses a prerequisite during class registration, she’ll have to go over the credit-hour limit the next semester, Mushcaweck said.

But Mushcaweck did have some concerns about the credit-hour increase.

If Belmont made the price for taking 18 hour classes equal to the current price for 16 hour classes, then the university could increase the requirement of hours for a degree, Mushcaweck said.

Overall, she still hoped the policy would be implemented.

“The credit hour increase would definitely improve my experience since I wouldn’t have to pay thousands of extra dollars just to pursue something that is really important to me,” she said. “If you are limited in what you can do at Belmont, then you that limits your future too.”

It is possible that the credit hour could be implemented soon since this time is common for administration to create budgets, but the recommendation still has a long way to go, Smith said.

“I am very hopeful that we will enact a change in the credit hour policy,” he said. “The results of our survey have convinced me that students would like to see a change, and I want to see that happen.”

In the meantime, SGA and administration will work to see how these numbers will add up to improve students’ budgets and futures.

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