New ASC tuition structure encourages earlier degree completion

(05-13-2011)

A new tuition structure that will help students graduate within four years and reduce their debt was approved at its May 13 meeting by the Board of Trustees for Adams State College, according to Adams State President David Svaldi.

The key feature of the new tuition structure is expansion of the full-time tuition "window," meaning students will pay the same full-time rate for 12 to 20 credit hours per semester. Previously, the full-time rate covered 12-15 credits, with a surcharge for additional credits beyond 15.

"Our recent record enrollments show that Adams State is successfully expanding access to higher education," Svaldi said. "Now, we want to encourage students to reduce their degree completion time. This gives huge financial advantages. Students not only join the workforce and begin earning sooner, they also significantly reduce educational loan debt."

Students must average 15 credits a semester to complete bachelor's degree requirements for 120 credits within four years. Adams State students who graduate in four years versus five save $18,321 in total direct costs.

The tuition structure was part of the college's 2011-12 academic year budget, adopted by the trustees May 13. The budget includes a reduction in state support of more than $2.3 million, 15 percent of the college's General Fund allocation, according to Bill Mansheim, vice president for Finance and Governmental Relations. "This amounts to a reduction of roughly $1,700 per ASC student."

He added: "We looked at every possible way to address the $2.3 million cut and still maintain our level of academic quality and service to students."

As part of its strategy to make up for that cut, Adams State will increase tuition $15 per credit hour for in-state undergraduate students. Total full-time tuition and fees for Colorado resident undergraduate students will be $2,813 per semester next year, an increase of $328. Non-resident undergraduates will pay $5,437 per semester, an increase of $472.

"We have done all we could to keep our tuition increase to a minimum," Svaldi said. "Our student body is largely low-income, so we know affordability is essential."

With that in mind, Adams State housing rates will increase 0 to 4 percent, depending on room choice; while the Sodexo meal plan will increase only $30 a semester.

"Undergraduate state resident students who live on campus will see a total cost increase of only 6.5 percent," Mansheim said. "But the tuition window expansion means students who register for more than 17 credits a semester will actually see cost decreases."

Higher credit load = academic success

The college's Academic Council, which consists of academic department heads, advocated the tuition window change. Because programs such as science, music, and nursing require 16 or 17 credits a semester to achieve four-year completion, the surcharge unfairly affected students in these majors.

"The expanded window gives incentive to take additional courses above 15 hours at no extra cost, so we may reasonably expect to see some students graduating early. A student who averages slightly more than 17 hours per semester could graduate in 3.5 years," noted Dr. Matt Nehring, professor of physics and chair of Chemistry, Computer Science and Mathematics. "This change also gives incentive and opportunities for students to explore additional fields of study at no cost every semester, leading to new innovation, ideas, and connections that students would otherwise miss."

In addition, research shows that students actually do better academically if they take 14-17 credits a semester, as opposed to 12 (the minimum for full-time status). Dr. Michael Mumper, senior vice president for Enrollment Management and Program Development, said, "Even low-achievers who enroll in moderate to moderately-heavy course loads outperform those with fewer hours (12-13). Students with higher course loads usually have higher GPAs, are more likely to graduate, and graduate with less debt."

New scholarships reward academic achievement

New merit scholarships will be awarded for the fall that will help offset increased college costs for some students. Continuing and transfer students will automatically receive awards valued between $500 and $1,500, if they have earned a cumulative grade point average of 3.25 or higher at the conclusion of the spring semester. No application is necessary; but to be eligible, students must be full-time undergraduate students attending the Alamosa campus. Mumper estimates about 410 students will be eligible for the inaugural awards.

Students holding a GPA above 3.9 will receive President's Scholarship awards of $1,500; those with a GPA between 3.5 and 3.89 will receive Vice President's Scholarship awards of $1,000; and those with a GPA between 3.25 and 3.49 will receive $500 Chairs' Scholarships. The awards will be divided between the fall and spring semesters next year. Transfer students with at least 24 credits will be evaluated on the same standard as continuing students.

By Julie Waechter