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“Gaming the System” or Pursuing Academic Privilege? Discussing the 17-Credit Policy Change

Kelli Bahls, Staff Writer

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On Monday, April 24, 2017, Vice President of Academic Affairs Russel Mayer addressed the Marian University Student Senate Assembly regarding an important change in registration policy. The address came nearly five weeks after the start of course registration, and a brief e-mail noting the change was sent out Tuesday, April 25.

Effective in fall of 2017, students registering for more than 17 credits per semester are required to fill out a course overload permission request form. The form requires the signature of the student’s academic advisor as well as the signature of the dean overseeing the respective program. Based on the student’s rationale or written explanation for the overload, the dean will determine whether the course is “required” for graduating on time or if it simply constitutes an overload, requiring the student to pay an additional fee for the extra credit(s).

Students with a major in nursing, radiologic technology, or education are generally exempt from paying the additional fee. These programs require 128 credits for graduation, as opposed to the 120 required by nearly every other major offered on campus. Additionally, students with more than one major (or a major with multiple minors) would also not be required to pay the additional fee based on their rationale.

Dr. Mayer made several arguments about the change in policy, emphasizing that the change was not an attempt to restructure tuition costs. He reassured the Student Senate Assembly that many of the students affected by the policy would not have to pay the fee based on their program requirements. Furthermore, he insisted that the only students to truly be affected by this change were those who were “gaming the system” and graduating in 3 ½ years without paying a final semester’s worth of tuition.

From a financial perspective, the contention almost seems appropriate. If a student needs 120 credits to graduate, it would be possible to take 18 credits in 7 semesters and graduate in 3 ½ years with 126 credits. Instead of paying for their last semester, students allocate the cost and credits of that last semester over 7 semesters. Financial aid distribution, which Dr. Mayer described as “based on a yearly evaluation of scholarship needs,” would not change for these individuals. In the end, students graduate early, pay less in tuition, and receive more in scholarship funding.

Dr. Mayer’s address, however, did not answer several important questions. Namely, why wasn’t Student Senate and the student body at large informed en masse earlier? Where was the transparency in implementing this policy? And was this “gaming the system” accusation a fair description of what full-time students were doing?

In order to answer some of these questions, I interviewed Tarra Bourgeois, M.S. Ed., Associate Registrar. The staff at the Registrar’s Office were not directly involved in creating the new policy, but they are in charge of putting the policy into place. They were also more than willing to assist students and answer questions—even with the massive amount of work requiring their attention.

It was clear the transition from old to new policy came on quickly. Knowledge of the potential change was announced in an address to Marian staff by Dr. Manion. It was not until two weeks before spring registration, however, that the Registrar staff were informed that the full-time course load policy change would be implemented for the fall semester. Academic advisors received a lengthy e-mail, in part instructing advisors to discuss the policy change with students who might be affected by the change.

This two-week deadline presented several potential communication issues. First, academic advisors were solely responsible for sharing the policy change with students before registration. Members of the Student Senate executive board were not informed of the change until the March 20th meeting (the week of registration). Lastly, no effort to address rumors and speculations was made until the Student Senate meeting held on April 24, nearly five weeks after registration began. For weeks, some students could only speculate about what had happened.

“In terms of registering, it won’t hinder students at all,” Bourgeois said regarding the change. From the registration standpoint, students were able to register successfully for the fall semester with minimal difficulty. Every policy change, though, presents a learning experience. She suggested that “sending out an e-mail to students in advance of registration” might have alleviated some of the confusion.

When asked if it was accurate to describe students who took (or continue to take) 18 credits per semester to graduate early or on-time as “gaming the system,” she did not agree with the description. “Every student is going to take their path and isn’t necessarily doing anything malicious,” Bourgeois said.

While some might argue that students were abusing campus policy under the old course load policy, others would contend that taking 18 credits—and graduating early because of it—was a fundamental student right supported and acceptable under the old course load policy. It is still within a student’s rights to take as many credits as he or she is able to, in accordance with their academic ability and financial standing. It is also a privilege, then, for students to graduate early and enter the workforce ahead of their peers—putting their knowledge and experience gained at Marian to the test.

While Marian students recognize they cannot participate in every decision-making process on campus, the full-time course load policy change affected nearly every student on campus.

Students deserve to know whether a change in policy will affect their ability to graduate early and at what cost. Furthermore, “gaming the system” is not an acceptable description for students who are following published policy and procedure as established in the Marian University Academic Bulletin and related publications.

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“Gaming the System” or Pursuing Academic Privilege? Discussing the 17-Credit Policy Change