TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In the 2015-2016 academic year, 28 percent of Florida university students earning undergraduate degrees also accumulated “excess” credit hours and paid financial penalties.
For a typical undergraduate that means she or he took classes totaling more than 120 credit hours to earn their baccalaureate degrees. If they took more than 132 hours of classes, it became a costly venture.
Such students are subject to an excess credit-hour surcharge for those extra classes. The penalty, since 2012, doubles their tuition, which averages more than $210 a credit hour for in-state residents at the major universities.
In 2015-2016, 72 percent of undergraduates earning four-year degrees avoided excess credit hours, according to the Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 state universities.
But the data also showed 72 percent of baccalaureate graduates at Florida A&M University had excess credit hours, the highest percentage, versus 20 percent at the University of Florida, the lowest percentage.
Across the system, about 13,550 of the 48,391 graduates paid for excess credit hours.
Rep. Amber Mariano, a Hudson Republican who was elected to the House while she was still a student at the University of Central Florida, has been trying to soften that financial penalty since her election in 2016.
Last year, her bill did not make it to the House floor. She refiled the proposal (HB 565) this year, and on Tuesday the legislation cleared the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee in a unanimous vote.
Under Mariano’s bill, first-time-in-college students who exceed a 110 percent trigger, that is taking more than 132 credit hours, would not pay the surcharge if they still graduate within four years.
Additionally, the bill would raise the penalty trigger to 120 percent, which would be 144 credit hours for a 120-hour degree program, for students earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health disciplines.
Mariano, who earned a political-science degree last year from UCF, said her bill would raise the excess hours trigger for students in the technology and health fields because there is less “wiggle room” for those majors.
She also said she understood the original intent of trying to keep students from taking excess classes and keep them moving through the system, but she said the 132-credit-hour trigger, or 110 percent of the normal credit hours, “is just too low of a number.”
A similar bill (SB 844), sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, is moving in the Senate and will be taken up the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. It has already cleared the Senate Education Committee in a unanimous vote.
“We’ve taken a step to recognize that kids change their minds,” Bean said when the bill cleared its first committee.
He said he took up the issue after a young woman told him about her financial plight after changing her major from an art degree to nursing.
“When she went over 110 percent of credit hours, she was subject to sticker shock,” Bean said. “Her bill skyrocketed.”
Under Bean’s proposal, first-time-in-college students who finish their degrees in four years would be entitled to a reimbursement of the surcharge for up to 12 excess credit hours. It would effectively mean they could take up to 144 credit hours without facing a penalty.
But Bean has had to scale back his bill, dropping a provision that would have raised the excess hours surcharge trigger for students earning technology and health degrees to 120 percent.
The revision means it would only result in a loss of $2.4 million in tuition for the university system, representing the estimated 1,450 students who took excess credit hours but graduated within four years in 2015-2016.
Bean said reducing the financial impact may make the legislation more viable. Mariano’s bill would result in an estimated loss of $6.2 million in tuition.
Both bills face more committee hearings. If Bean’s bill passes the Higher Education Appropriations Committee this week, it will move to the full Appropriations Committee. Mariano’s bill next heads to the House Education Committee.