Pay by Credit Policy Change Rankles Students

Lindsey Brodeck, Staff Reporter

Whitman College faculty recently voted to decrease the maximum credits allowed in the College’s pay by credit policy. As of this year, second semester seniors who petition to pay by credit can take up to eight credits, twice as many as the four credits required next year.

A working group consisting of faculty, staff and administrators recommended the change. Because the eight credit stipulation was in the Faculty Code, a vote of the full faculty was required to change the policy. The working group included the Provost and Dean of Faculty Alzada Tipton, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Peter Harvey, Dean of Admissions Tony Cabasco and Chair of the Faculty Melissa Clearfield.

Provost Tipton said the main reason for the policy change was to bring Whitman College in line with practices at other colleges and universities that do not offer pay-per-credit opportunities for seniors.

“Most colleges and universities have senior residency requirements, which expect students to be full-time in their senior year,” Tipton said. “The reason for such policies is that colleges believe that it is a dilution of the students’ college experience and a loss to the college community to have students away from campus or not fully engaged with campus in their senior year.”

Clearfield agreed, saying that the main reason for the policy change had to do with concerns about campus community.

“What was convincing to me and the faculty was concerns about the breadth of education and sense of community, especially between classes. This change is a smaller deal than people think it is,” Clearfield said.

Meghan Ash, a senior anthropology major currently paying by credit, does not agree with the policy change.

“Working with four credits severely limits your options. I got lucky. It would have affected me if I needed to fill in one of my last distributions. What this new rule does is it makes it really difficult for you to do anything except for thesis if you’re paying by credit,” Ash said.

Second semester seniors interested in paying by credit must petition the Dean of Students to be granted regular student status on a pay-per-credit basis. For Ash, the Dean almost didn’t allow her to pay by credit because she was taking twelve credits at the community college, which proved she could pay other institutions. The price for the twelve credits at the community college was $1,000.

According to the college catalog, the charge for one full semester is $23,745 for the 2016-17 year. The per-credit-hour charge for second semester senior students is $1,979. Typically, college classes are three or four credits, making the cost per class $5,721 or $7,628. Taking eight or fewer credits under the existing pay by credit policy would save students a minimum of over $8,400.

“There certainly is an additional financial component [from the college’s perspective] and I won’t deny that. That was only one of many factors,” Clearfield said.

An email sent to the Whitman community on February 27 titled “Check Your Schedules,” informed students of the last date to withdraw from classes and briefly described the policy change in the second paragraph. Registrar Stacey Giusti and Vice President for Communications and Public Relations Josh Jensen were responsible for the message.

Jensen said the briefness of the message was intentional.

“We combined the message only to have less emails. The registrar happened to have an email planned and we just tagged along,” Jensen said.

Junior Mario Santos-Davidson had planned since his first year to pay by credit his last semester. He did not notice the policy change in the email.

“It’s so sudden. I didn’t notice it because after reading the first paragraph, it was just like all of the emails [the registrar] sends us,” Santos-Davidson said. “If you combine it with an email you send out twice a week, no one is going to read it.”

As a member of the golf team, Santos-Davidson has to take at least twelve credits every semester and has the option to pay by credit his last semester. He planned to take full loads every semester, which would leave seven credits in his last semester. With the policy change, he will now pay for two full semesters his senior year, a difference of over $10,000.

According to Jensen, in the last decade there was a trend of more students utilizing the pay by credit system.

“There was a sense that the old pay by credit system was introducing an incentive to bunch up credits earlier on with the goal to save a few dollars later,” Jensen said. “The students most likely to use it were ones with no need-based aid. They might be interested in saving the family some money, but they weren’t the ones who needed it the most.”

According to Provost Tipton, 8 percent of students receiving need-based financial paid by credit, as opposed to 13 percent of students who did not receive need-based aid. The percentages were calculated using data from the last eight graduating classes.

For many families, even ones who do not qualify for need-based aid, having the option to pay by credit is a valuable option.

“I didn’t think there was going to be a [financial] issue when I started college, but my dad’s business has been doing poorly the last couple of years because he is a mechanic and it’s super unpredictable,” Santos-Davidson said. “So it is a struggle to get through the last year. I was thinking this would be a great way to help out. I’m pretty upset about the change.”