Beginning fall 2023, the University of Wyoming will move to a block tuition policy, meaning full-time students will pay the same rate per semester, regardless of how many courses they’re enrolled in.
University officials hope the policy, which applies to both undergraduate and graduate students, will encourage students to take more credits per term and increase the likelihood that they’ll graduate on time.
“Everybody should go to college, but everybody should get out of here in four years,” Trustee David Fall said at the Board of Trustees meeting last week, when the trustees approved the new policy and a 4% increase in tuition for most programs. The changes are projected to increase the university’s tuition revenue by about $1 million each year, UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told WyoFile. The trustees delayed action on whether to keep tuition flat next year for certain programs that have requested exemption from the tuition increase.
Under the new tuition policy, all undergraduate students taking between 12 and 18 credits will be charged for 15 credits. That comes to $2,490 for in-state students and $10,380 for out-of-staters per semester. Undergraduates taking more than 18 credits will pay $166 per additional credit for Wyoming students and $692 per credit for out-of-state students.
Currently, undergraduate students average fewer than 15 credits per semester — the course load required to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years.
A full-time load for graduate students is considered 9-12 credits, and students taking that amount under the block tuition policy will be charged for 10 credits each semester. For the 2023-2024 academic year, a semester’s tuition will cost $3,230 for Wyoming graduate students and $9,670 for out-of-state students. UW graduate students currently average 9.9 credits per semester.
Graduate students taking more than 12 credits will also be charged for each extra credit.
Along with improving graduation rates, UW officials contend the new policy will make it easier for students and families to predict the annual cost of a degree and simplify the billing process.
Baldwin also noted that students can take classes outside of their majors for little financial cost by loading up with 18 credits per semester.
The current leaders of Associated Students of the University of Wyoming had supported the move to block tuition, though ASUW President Allison Brown told trustees Thursday it seems most students aren’t as supportive as she is.
“I think at this time that students don’t see this as free credits by taking 18 credits a semester. I think they see it as just being up-charged,” she said.
The Student Senate declined to move forward on a resolution of support for the policy.
Heavier course loads
Even before President Ed Seidel took the reins at UW in 2020, university officials had discussed incentivizing heavier course loads in hopes of increasing the four-year graduation rates.
Under former President Laurie Nichols, UW set a five-year strategic plan that called for increasing the four-year graduation rate by 8 percentage points — up to 33% by 2022.
While serving as interim president of the university from 2019-2020, Neil Theobald named improving four-year graduation as one of his top priorities.
“The strongest predictor of how much it’s going to cost you to go to college is how long it takes you to graduate,” he said at the time.
After hovering between 20% and 30% for two decades, UW’s four-year graduation rate steadily improved each year since 2015.
Just 26% of first-time college students who enrolled at UW in the summer or fall of 2011 graduated in four years. Six years later, that four-year graduation rate had increased to 40%.
Gender continues to be a dominant factor in graduate rates. Of the women who enrolled as first-time college students at UW in 2017, 49.2% graduated within four years. In that same time frame, just 31.6% of male college students graduated in four years. However, the five-year graduation rates of men in the last few years have jumped, with UW’s latest data indicating that 52.3% of its male students who enroll as first-time students graduate in five years.
Even before the significant increase in graduation rates in the last decade, the university’s rate was much better than it had been during the 1980s. Between 1980 and 1993, the four-year graduation rate at UW hovered between 13% and 17%.
Baldwin told WyoFile in an email that university officials believe that, by increasing on-time graduation rates, the new policy could reduce the associated cost of a degree and student loan debt while allowing students to enter the workforce or graduate school earlier, ultimately increasing their lifetime earning potential.
In recent years, in-state UW undergraduates have averaged 14.5 credits per semester, while out-of-state students have averaged 14.9 credits.
If those averages hold, thousands of students will pay more each semester than under a per-credit tuition policy.
During the past three semesters, an average of 3,339 students would have paid between 7% and 25% more tuition under the new block tuition policy, contributing more than an additional $2 million to the university’s coffers each semester. Much of that additional revenue would’ve been offset by the decreased tuition rates paid by students who took more than 15 credits each semester.
Some students will be exempted from the new block tuition policy and will be allowed to continue paying on a per-credit basis. That includes students with disabilities or health issues, graduating seniors who need fewer than 30 credits in their final year and students involved in certain university-sponsored activities — primarily athletics, among others.
“Students seeking an exemption will apply electronically and submit documentation based on the reason for the request,” Baldwin wrote in an email.
Students completing internships will also be exempt from the block tuition policy, but students taking fewer than 15 credits because of their employment obligations will not.
Students have expressed concern, Brown said, about the fact that those “who opt to work (during college) and cannot meet 15 credits a semester” won’t be exempt from paying for 15 credits.
In addition to the two semesters in the spring and fall, students also have the opportunity to take some courses during the summer and a compacted session that takes place over winter break — known as J-term. Depending on course availability, students could take fewer than 15 credits in some semesters and make them up during summer or J-term, still graduating in four years — a key justification for the block tuition policy.
In that circumstance, however, students would still need to pay the 15-credit block rate and pay extra for J-term and summer courses on a per-credit basis, Baldwin told WyoFile.
With a 4% price hike approved for most programs last week, undergraduate tuition will have risen 53.7% for Wyoming students and 60.1% for out-of-state students in the past decade. For 2023-2024’s academic year, the most recent bump means $810 in increased tuition for out-of-state undergraduates and a $180 increase for in-state students.
Several programs and colleges have asked the trustees to not raise their tuition rates for the 2023-2024 academic year in order to stay competitive with other institutions. That request covers law students, non-Wyoming pharmacy students, doctoral nursing students, and those seeking a master’s degree in business administration.
Alex Kean, UW’s deputy vice president for budget and finance, told the trustees that, by not raising tuition rates for an MBA, the College of Business actually expects to generate more revenue by attracting more students to the program.
Trustees originally planned to approve those rate changes last week but opted to move a decision back until at least October amid concerns about the fairness of raising tuition rates for some programs but not others.
Before making a decision, Chairman John McKinley said he wanted to see a more in-depth analysis of whether increasing tuition for programs like an MBA would actually have a negative impact on enrollment.
“I’m concerned in this time of high inflation, that we are not recognizing that issue and doing a 0% increase for those upper-level programs,” McKinley said. “A lot of the time, those students are the ones that have a larger ability to absorb that increased cost. When they’re at 0%, that means an increased cost to the university that has to be absorbed by the block grant, which then puts it on the shoulders of the undergraduate programs to absorb any marginal cost increase from those upper-level programs.”
Trustee Brad LaCroix, who’s also the superintendent of Weston County School District No. 1, lamented the 4% increase for the College of Education’s programs amid the statewide teacher shortage.
“I look at the trouble we’re in K-12 education and teaching,” LaCroix said. “Charging more money for them to pursue (a teaching degree) I don’t think is going to help the state in their shortage.”
Trustees Dave True and Michelle Sullivan countered by arguing the tuition increase for the College of Education is necessary for keeping the quality of programs high, especially after a recent reallocation of funding to support some of Seidel’s initiatives meant the College of Education took a budget cut.