College students seeking a more well-rounded education could soon see flatter wallets.
The state has changed the rules on how much it charges for a public education and has placed stiff penalties on those taking excessive credit hours.
A law passed in 2009 is now affecting students who have spent four years in school but haven't yet graduated. Students who take more than 120 percent of their required credit hours – typically about eight extra classes -- have to pay about $157 extra per class, or about 50 percent more than others pay.
Eventually students who take more than four classes above their degree requirements will have to pay double tuition, or about $357 extra per class, based on tuition this year.
Most affected are students who change majors, drop or fail classes, or take extra classes for their own enrichment. And there are expected to be thousands of them.
State University System data shows 36 percent of all students who graduated in 2012 took more than their required hours.
"I think it's going a big issue for students," said Peter Amirato, student government president at Florida Atlantic University. "It's definitely going to cause students to go into more debt, and I think we're going to see more students graduating with majors they're not satisfied with because they don't want to get penalized."
The Legislature agreed to the change as a way to cut taxpayer costs at state universities and to give students an incentive to get in and out of college faster.
Universities say they've been alerting students who are getting close to their limit. So far, the impact has been small. FAU has billed about 35 students while the University of Florida has billed about 220. Florida International University said it hasn't billed any students yet.
But the Board of Governors said the policy "may have a significant impact on students ... which could, in turn, impact enrollments, retention, and graduation."
At a meeting this week, the Board proposed that universities be rewarded for graduating more students without excessive hours.
Board member Norman Tripp of Fort Lauderdale said he supports the excess credit law.
"Students need to take classes that will keep them on track," he said. "If a student is taking an extra 40 or 50 hours because they haven't done things right, I don't think the taxpayers should be paying for it."
But not all students are purposely trying to extend college.
Amirato, who started in 2009, said he will likely get hit with the higher charge before he graduates. He said his engineering major required him to have calculus, but before he could take that, he needed several other math classes. Those lower math classes, not specifically included in his degree requirements, may cause him to get excess credits.
Joe Spillane, director of the Academic Advising Center at the University of Florida, said some of the students impacted are "overachievers."
"There are students who are excelling. They're pursuing things that add a lot of extra credits to their program," he said. "It may be a student who has a major but is also pre-med and is taking all the courses needed to be competitive in medical school. So they may add foreign language classes on top of their regular courses. They're doing everything we would want an undergraduate to do. They're just doing a lot of it."
But there must be limits, especially since many students also receive state-funded Bright Futures scholarships, said Robert Weissert, chief research officer for Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group that advocated for the law.
"Given the extraordinary investment money Florida puts toward higher education, we need to make sure there is a return on the investment," he said. "If they're going to take class upon class that have nothing to do with their major, that's fine, but they shouldn't do it at taxpayers' expense."
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