Monday, March 16, 2009

FAMU’s course load cliff

Students take smaller course loads as college gets more expensive

Back in the early 1990s, FAMU’s lower division students (those with fewer than 60 credit hours) were increasing their course loads. That trend peaked in 1997, when freshmen and sophomores enrolled in an average of 14.2 credit hours each semester.

Those days are long gone. In 1998, FAMU’s average lower division credit hour enrollment rolled off a cliff. Today, it’s still in a free fall. Freshmen and sophomores only take about 13.5 credit hours per semester.

Upper division students (those with more than 60 credit hours) have been more erratic in their course load patterns. At all State University System institutions, the upper division students carry a lower average course load than their lower division classmates.

FAMU’s juniors and seniors generally increased their average credit hour enrollment between 1994 and 2005, going from 12.2 to 13.7. But beginning in 2006, they started to enroll in fewer courses. In 2007, their average was only 13.3.

The reasons why

The biggest factor behind FAMU’s declining average credit hour enrollment is the rising cost of college. Beginning in Fall 1998, most of FAMU's credit hours came from the lower division. Of all the SUS schools, FAMU and FGCU (since 2005) are the only two at which the lower division contains the majority of the undergraduate student body's credit hours.

FAMU’s students are getting stuck in the lower division because they can’t afford to take enough credit hours to move through college quickly. Most FAMU students come from families that make less than $40,000 each year. When tuition and living expenses go up, they take fewer classes due to their lack of funds. Many of these students have to interrupt their education to work until they make enough money to re-enroll.

Pell Grant increases haven’t reversed the trend

The maximum Pell Grant award increased from $3,000 in 1998 to $4,310 in 2007. However, the new financial aid did nothing to stop FAMU’s lower division credit hour loads from dropping. Pell Grants have not kept pace with tuition hikes.

This fact should serve a stark warning to those FAMUans who assume that tuition hikes are a good idea now that the Congress has approved a Pell Grant increase and American Opportunity Tax Credit.

It’s highly likely that FAMU students will use the Pell Grant increase and tax credit to cover soaring expenses outside of class rather than buying more credit hours. In 2007, it cost $14,160 for in-state students to attend FAMU and $26,101 for out-of-state students. But, the average financial aid award was $10,478. The stimulus funds will likely go to fill that gap.

Bottom line: Tuition hikes are not helping FAMU. If FAMU wants to increase its graduation rate, then it must find ways to make college more affordable so students can enroll in more credit hours.

Note: This is part one of our special series: “Investing in a Higher Graduation Rate.”

Sources: State University System Fact Books, American Council of Education, and New America Foundation.


Anonymous said...

Wow. This is a real problem.

Anonymous said...

It is entirely true that students get forced out with the tuition and especially housing costs in Tallahassee. It takes a lot to explain to parents that utilities in Tally can be two to three times that of their own. Rent isn't going down, you know there are people who just see students as money. I'm sure that Dr. Ammons has a plan for housing, but it is needed almost more than anything else. While its thought a nice thing to be able to live spread out across the city, many students find out that they should have stayed ON CAMPUS. If we're serious about rates of completion and the type of person we produce, we need to aggressively attack and solve the problem of housing on campus.

Anonymous said...

That's very true. FAMU only has enough housing for about 20% of the student body. There's a multi-year plan to expand housing, but the university really needs to step it up if at all possible. More on campus housing means a drastic cut in the living expenses for students.

Anonymous said...

I agree, it's the cost of living/housing problem. Not the the cost of tuition as we are being lead to believe.

Anonymous said...

I think the point that's being made is that tuition increases are causing an extra strain on top of an already bad situation.

Anonymous said...

I'd definitely like to see more on this type of issue RN. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Students need to stop trying to maintain and lifestyle and go to college. When I went to school in the 70's no one had cars, we all wore jeans to school every day and ate in the cafeteria. All one needs to do is look at our students and what they do. Instant gratification is the problem and not the cost of the education. Why does everyone have to have an apartment. People leave a dorm room shared by two and get a 1 bedroom apartment. Why not share the one bedroom apartment with another student?

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is trying to let students off the hook. Many students come to college without personal discipline in their spending.

But, you have to admit that the cost of college is really outrageous right now. And we're in a recession. The students are hurting and their parents are hurting too.

We've got to stop the drop in FAMU's student course load average. Giving students some relief on tuition could do some good.

big rattler said...

3/17/2009 2:59 AM,

Thanks. We'll definitely work on some more special reports like this one for the future.