New law eases university tuition penalty

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – First-time-in-college students who enroll in a Florida university this fall can take a few extra classes and avoid a tuition penalty if they graduate within four years.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, takes effect with the start of the new academic year July 1. The measure was sponsored by Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, who said they wanted to help students who end up taking extra classes because they change majors or for other reasons.

Under the former policy, which had been in place since 2012, university students who take more than 132 credit hours of classes for a major that typically only needs 120 credit hours face an “excess” hour surcharge.

The surcharge for the extra classes doubles tuition, which normally averages more than $210 per credit hour at the state’s major universities.

Mariano, who was elected to the House while still a student at the University of Central Florida in 2016, said she did not have to pay the surcharge when she earned her political science degree last year. But she said she knew other students who were paying the tuition penalty.

“If you change your field at all, you take a minor, you take a leadership program, you hit that number,” Mariano told The News Service of Florida last month. “I just saw a lot of students affected by it and that’s kind of where it came from.”

The law would give first-time-in-college students up to 12 extra credit hours, penalty free, if they graduate within four years of enrollment.

Students would pay the penalty but would be reimbursed through a refund.