A new piece of legislation will aim to keep Indiana’s university students on track for graduation.
The bill’s several components will mainly affect the freshman class of 2014, but John McPherson, director of scholarships and financial aid, said some of its effect will be felt next year.
Recipients of the 21st Century Scholars and Frank O’Bannon scholarships will need to complete 30 credit hours by the start of their sophomore year to receive the full amount of their scholarships. The same applies for junior and senior year, with 60 and 90 credit hours respectively.
McPherson was among the Ball State officials present during the drafting process. University officials across the state helped legislators work on the bill.
“The overall goal of this legislation is to encourage students to graduate in four years,” McPherson said.
He said the credit hour requirements added to the 21st Century Scholars and Frank O’Bannon scholarships are perhaps the most important part of the bill.
More than $180 million was awarded through the Frank O’Bannon scholarship, and more than $50 million through 21st Century Scholars during 2011-12.
Falling below these requirements will result in a partial deduction from the Frank O’Bannon scholarship and a complete loss of 21st Century Scholar’s, but McPherson said they won’t disappear forever.
“They don’t care if it’s even or not. You could fall short one year and make it back up another year,” McPherson said.
An appeal process will also be available if a student feels there is a legitimate reason they fell below the requirements.
McPherson said legislators heard about the growing cost of college, and this is their response. Ball State’s four-year graduation rate is 36 percent, slightly below Indiana’s four-year graduation rate of 37.8 percent.
Junior psychology major Christina O’Neill said one problem the bill could face is students who change their majors.
“I think it’s a good start, but a big problem is that students change their minds,” she said. “They take classes that they end up not needing for their major.”
O’Neill changed her major from mathematics to psychology, and she said the bill might pressure students to stay with a major they don’t want in order to keep money.
The O’Bannon scholarship has a fallback—if a student falls below the 30, 60 and 90 credit hour marks, they can receive a smaller portion of the scholarship if they are still above 24, 48 or 72 hours.
McPherson said he and other representatives strongly supported the fallback.
“It was an agreement by all of the public and private schools that we needed a fallback and not to just let people drop out of the program completely,” he said.
The intent of the bill is to keep students focused on graduating in four years, but McPherson said doing so might not be the best for all students.
“It’s a personal opinion that I’m not sure if four-year graduation rate can be the expectation of all students,” he said. “I tend to say, ‘If a student can earn a degree in five years, they’re a whole lot better off and prepared for life than if they don’t have a degree at all.’”
Junior accounting major Jeff Colver said the bill might be beneficial.
“I don’t think it’s going to make the biggest change in the world, because people are going to come in and do what they want essentially,” he said. “The people that really do care and look into how they’re paying for school, they’re gonna look into it and say, ‘I want to get this done, I want to figure this out.’”
McPherson said students who intend to graduate in four years need to come in prepared and have an idea of what they want to accomplish.
Ball State has already begun using degree maps that outline what classes students need to take to move through college quickly, but the bill will spread them to other colleges and add a stipulation.
Universities will be required to provide a class for free if a student needs to take it but can’t due to scheduling conflicts or class sizes.
O’Neill said being a transfer student makes it difficult to register for classes sometimes.
“I’m a transfer student. I’ve had problems getting into classes because I don’t get to register as soon as some people do,” she said. “I think it’s a great idea, because sometimes they don’t even offer enough classes.”
The bill changed the scholarship wording from “semester” to “academic year,” making scholarships available during fall and spring semester as well as summer classes.
“They’re trying to give students more flexibility so the awards aren’t tied only to fall and spring,” McPherson said. “A student who chooses to use an award in the summer can do so.”
The bill also changes the formula determining how much money will be offered. Before it was determined by expected parent contribution, but in the future it will be by expected family contribution, which covers parent and individual contributions.
High school honors classes have added a scholarship bonus to all four years of college for some students, but they will now need to maintain a 3.0 GPA to keep the bonus.
O’Neill said the intent is good, but might have bad effects in some cases.
“I think it’s a good idea, but then again I have a lot of friends who are just on the border,” she said. “It makes me worry.”
A bonus incentive will encourage students to take heavier course loads. A student who completes 39, 78 or 117 by the end of their freshman, sophomore or junior year will receive a bonus to their scholarships.
Colver said because he works, this incentive would be difficult for him, but some students could make the cut.
“I think some will [take advantage of the accelerated incentive], but I don’t think many will,” he said.
The changes may seem like a big jump, but McPherson said the degree maps and scholarship formula are two of the only changes to affect current students. The majority of the changes will be brought in with the freshmen of 2014.
“Most of the students that are here will continue under the current program they’re on,” he said.
He said that current students should still follow the bill.
“Students should be aware of this bill because it will absolutely have a financial impact,” he said. “For students to maintain and maximize their award from the state of Indiana, they need to make sure they understand the completion requirements that have been placed in this bill. Students need to understand that their rate of completion is going to affect the financial aspects of their state award.”