Among Pennsylvania’s three state-related institutions, Temple has the lowest per-semester credit hour limits and four-year graduation rates. But top university administrators, including President Neil Theobald, say allowing students to increase their workloads could come with adverse effects.
Temple’s policy dictates that students taking between 12 and 17 credits per semester are considered full-time. For each additional credit over that limit, students are required to pay hundreds of dollars for additional classes on a per-credit basis. The system allows for a typical schedule to include no more than five three or four-credit classes in a given semester.
The limits at Temple are lower than at the state’s two other large state-related institutions, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh. At Penn State, students taking more than 12 credits are also considered full-time, however there is no cap on the number of credits full-time students can take. At University of Pittsburgh, the limit for full-time-based tuition is 18 credits per semester, which allows students the option of taking six three-credit classes.
Peter Jones, the vice provost of undergraduate studies, said that the 17 credit maximum has been in place for as long as he has been at the university, where he started working in 1985.
Jones said the 17 credit maximum is based on the overall credit system at Temple, where four-year programs require between 120 and 124 total credits to graduate. When broken down along eight semesters, that equals 15 to 15.5 credits per semester, allowing most students to take enough credits each semester without going over.
At both Pitt and Penn State, four-year degree programs are similar to Temple’s in that they require no less than 120 credits. Undergraduate classes at both universities are also primarily three or four credits.
However, Temple’s four-year graduation rate is just 36 percent, more than 40 percent lower than at Pitt and Penn State, where four-year rates are 61 and 63 percent, respectively. The six-year rate is 68 percent, compared to 79 percent at Pitt and 83 percent at Penn State. The majority of people included beyond the six-year rate are those who enroll at the university but never graduate, Jones said.
That means that at Temple, where students face stricter per-semester credit limits, 47 percent of the those who do graduate take more than four years to do so, compared to 23 percent at Pitt and 24 percent at Penn State.
Cassie O’Leary, a senior advertising major, was one student who said she is dissatisfied with the university’s policy. In the recent semester, she said she had planned on taking six classes until she saw the limits and additional fees.
“I wish that wasn’t the case,” O’Leary said. “I have time for six classes, but I definitely don’t have the money to take six classes.”
Jones said that President Theobald and Provost Hai Lung-Dai are committed toward reducing student debt and increasing the four-year graduation rate. He also said that among university administrators, there is no talk about raising the credit limit on undergraduates.
“There is no immediate need to increase the number of credits unless you want to graduate early,” Jones said.
In an email, President Theobald said that he does not believe that fees for additional credits hinder students; instead he said they promote four-year graduation rates.
“We allow students to take 12-17 credit hours in a semester at the same cost to encourage students to take a reasonable class load. A student registering for 18 or more credit hours is more likely to lengthen time to graduation because they will be unable to allocate sufficient time to each course. As a result, the student could fail to obtain the knowledge and build the skills needed to succeed not only in that course, but in subsequent courses,” Theobald said.
Jones said that students at Temple often need to balance multiple workloads from internships and part-time jobs on top of school work, and that balancing multiple workloads on top of a heavy schedule can have adverse effects.
“In your attempt to speed up, you can actually slow yourself down,” Jones said, noting that students in intensive science, technology and engineering majors are especially at risk by taking 18 or more credits.
“In other schools it might be possible to take 18 or 19 credits without any problems,” he said.
Marjeta Topi, a senior biology major, said she disagreed with the university’s logic. “If students are smart and can take more than 17 credits, [the university] should be proud of that,” she said.
While burdens stemming from internship work can be an extra load on student’s schedules, they can also be an extra load on their tuition bills. Internships counting toward credit are included within the full-time limits. A student taking a typical five, three-credit class course load with an added internship would find themselves over the 17 credit maximum, having to pay for those additional credits out-of-pocket.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 47.8 percent of class of 2013 graduates who reported participating in internships were not paid.
Jones said that the university includes internship credit hours with class credit hours because the school hires internship coordinators to help students apply for positions and to inspect programs to ensure that they meet federal standards.
John Moritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.