By Alex Mosher
Beginning Fall 2014, students at the University of Nevada, Reno who have taken 150 percent of the credits required to graduate must pay an additional 50 percent of the cost of each credit they are enrolled in.
“It’s something that I’m not excited about having to pay,” said Brian McLelland, a senior at UNR who has earned credits beyond the 150 percent cap.
McLelland, 31, dropped out of UNR when he was 21 due to an overwhelming uncertainty regarding what he wanted to do with his life.
“I jumped around a little bit,” McLelland said. “I started out as a history major, something that I thought I really liked until I started doing it. Then I did the typical undergrad dance of, history’s not working out, so you try criminal justice and you’re trying to figure out who you are. Criminal j u s t i c e became, I don’t know, just to take classes to take classes,”
Mc L e l land dropped out of UNR and worked full-time for Wells Fargo for two years before he decided to go back to school.
“I made the decision that I wanted to be an educated person,” McLelland said. “I don’t want to be some uneducated phone monkey.”
Originally returning to school as an evolutionary biology major, McLelland decided to take a literary writing class “on a whim” because of his interest in English.
“It changed my mind about everything,” McLelland said. “I’m like, ‘I could do this all day. This is what I was made to do.’ So I switched over to English, and I’ve been going for that ever since.”
Fortunately for McLelland, he only has three classes left to take next semester that he’ll be charged the excess credit fee for. Aside from his own predicament, McLelland feels bad for other students continuing their educations at UNR.
“It punishes people who — maybe they made bad decisions, maybe they decided to change majors,” McLelland said. “Who wants to finish a degree in biology when halfway through you’re like, ‘I don’t really love this.’ You take that English class or that psych class or whatever and you’re like, ‘I was made to do this other thing.’”
As an incoming freshman, s o p h o m o r e Brittany Souza was told it wasn’t necessary for her to know her major in the beginning, so she spontaneously declared psychology. After taking several psychology courses, Souza realized most psychology careers require considerable amounts of time researching, something she was not enthused about.
Instead, she chose to pursue a degree in community health sciences in hopes of one day becoming an occupational therapist.
“I have all these extra credits left over from psychology that I can’t really put towards my community health science degree,” Souza said.
Souza said she will most likely end up paying the excess credit fee because she can’t afford to transfer to a different university. As a student who is paying her way through school, Souza said she must retain her in-state scholarships in order to continue funding her education.
“It’s not practical to keep upping the tuition,” Souza said. “It makes me wonder if I’m going to be able to finish my degree and pay for it without being in debt by the time I’m out of school.”
In September 2012, the Access and Affordability Committee proposed the excess credit fee to the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents. The proposal was part of the Access and Affordability Committee’s “Report and Recommendations,” which was created in response to Nevada’s rising tuition levels and limited financial aid resources, according to the Nov. 29 Board of Regents meeting agenda.
“It was a result of the study… intended to improve completion/ graduation rates and get students through to a degree without spending too much on unneeded course[s],” said Jason Geddes, a member of the NSHE Board of Regents.
In the study Geddes is referring to, the committee reported on several states that have adopted the excess credit fee policy including Utah, Arizona, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
The 150 percent excess credit threshold was chosen because it matches the Federal Student Aid policy, which halts financial aid for students who have gone beyond the 150 percent credit threshold.
According to the Access and Affordability report, “…the philosophy seems to be to shift more of the cost from the taxpayer to the student in cases where students fail to appropriately progress toward their educational goals.”
Geddes said he doesn’t believe the fee will affect those who are hoping to or who have changed their majors too much.
“It was intended to target those who keep changing majors with no focus,” Geddes said. “This places a priority on counseling those that keep taking courses and changing majors, and that counseling can help. It is 150 percent of [a] degree before imposed or at least 180 credits for most majors. There are several exceptions for those who have a plan and path to graduation.”
McLelland said he understands what NSHE is trying to do, but believes they could have taken a better approach.
“I think that, you know, instead of trying to dangle a carrot in front of people to encourage them to graduate on time, or some sort of incentive, they’re using punishment as a way to enforce that instead of trying to incentivize graduating on time,” McLelland said.
Alex Mosher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.