By Michael Wunder, News Editor
Aiming to cut costs for students and their families, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved a proposal Sept. 9, allowing students who take a full course load of 15 credit hours per semester for eight semesters to graduate in four years.
“The University of Nebraska must address the public concern that college costs too much and that it takes students too long to graduate,” said NU President James Milliken in a press release. “While we will, of course, continue to maintain reasonable rates of tuition and invest in financial aid as part of our efforts to keep the university affordable, I believe one of the best ways we can provide savings to students is by accelerating their time to graduation.”
The new policy, effective for students enrolling fall 2012, lowers the required credits to 120 hours. Currently, many degree programs require 125. More credit hours means higher costs for students and their families.
“A fifth year of college adds about 20 percent to the cost of a bachelor’s degree,” Milliken said. “The university can mitigate this cost by implementing a 120-credit hour path to a degree, so that students can be expected to complete their education in four years assuming they plan ahead and make prudent choices during their college careers.”
The proposed policy is aligned with the Nebraska P-16 initiative, a coaltion of 31 Nebraska education, business and government organizations dedicated to increasing the success level of students from pre-school (“P”) to college (“16”). More than 40 states have P-16 initiatives.
One of the eight P-16 goals is to improve the time to degree completion and increase graduation rates among Nebraska’s college students. The new policy also builds on NU’s four-year graduation guarantee, which was approved by the Board in 2002 and is based on a mutual commitment from students to follow prudent practices while in college and from the university to ensure that required courses or acceptable alternatives are available.
“The bottom line is this,” said Board of Regents Chairman Bob Whitehouse, a member of the P-16 Leadership Council. “Students who take an average of 15 credit hours per semester for four years and are successful with their course of study should find themselves as University of Nebraska alumni. I believe offering an NU bachelor’s degree at 120 credit hours is the right thing to do for our students, their families and the university.”
Some programs, such as professional accreditation or state certification, would require more credit hours. These exceptions would have to be approved by Executive Vice President and Provost Linda Pratt. Any other exceptions would need to be approved by the Board of Regents.
Pratt said a timely graduation is both cost-efficient for students and allows the university to use financial aid more effectively.
“We need to make it possible for students who work hard at their courses to be able to graduate in four years,” Pratt said. “Making that possible is a responsibility we have to our students and their families. It will save them tuition, room and board, and reduce their level of debt if they can be out of college with a degree in hand after eight full semesters. It will also enable the university to stretch our financial aid to help more students if we can graduate them in four years instead of five.”