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UMD differential tuition leads to unexpected fees

University of Maryland, College Park, President Wallace Loh. (File)

University of Maryland, College Park, President Wallace Loh. (File)

Last year, the USM Board of Regents approved a plan to impose an additional tuition charge on junior and senior students in three majors at the University of Maryland, College Park that are in high demand and cost more to teach.

But some students with enough Advanced Placement or other college credit can reach junior standing by their second year, meaning they could end up being charged the additional rate — known as differential tuition — for more than just two years, particularly if they pursue a minor or second major.

But some regents say that’s not what they intended when they approved the policy, and they plan to revisit the issue when the board reconvenes this fall.

Regent Robert L. Pevenstein, who chairs the board’s finance committee, said at a meeting of that committee June 9 that while he supported charging differential tuition when it was enacted, he “had no contemplation at that time that someone could be paying more than two years.”

While these students may be able to finish their degrees in less than four years, the availability and scheduling of courses may keep others from doing so, officials said.

The differential tuition rate is being phased in: For the 2015-2016 year it was $350 per semester; for this coming year it’s $700 per semester, and for the 2017-2018 year it will be $1,400 per semester.

Standard tuition and fees for full-time, undergraduate state residents is $5,090.50 for fall 2016.

UMD President Wallace Loh asked the board last year to approve differential tuition for degrees in engineering, business and computer science, explaining in a written proposal that the cost of instruction per credit hour was $130 higher for engineering and $85 higher for business than the average cost of other majors.

(file)

(file)

All other schools in the Big Ten conference have some sort of differential pricing for their business and engineering programs, and many have it for computer science, Loh wrote.

Out of about 6,400 UMD students who were charged the differential tuition for the spring 2016 semester, 1040 reached junior standing by their second year, according to the university.

At UMD, class standing is routinely determined by the number of credits – 60 for juniors – that students have earned, rather than by the number of years they have been on campus.

Susan Niezelski, the mother of a UMD student who was charged the additional cost for his second year, has been urging the university and the board of regents to address the policy, which she says isn’t being executed as the regents intended.

Niezelski told The Daily Record that she’s concerned families are being hit with an unexpected charge, which could mean they would need to change their budgets or even take out additional loans to pay it.

Carlo Colella, UMD’s vice president for administration and finance, presented a possible remedy to regents at the committee meeting: Students who stay on campus to complete a minor or a second major that doesn’t require differential tuition won’t be charged the additional rate once their initial major requirements have been fulfilled.

“Some students will move through quickly and get done in less than four years on campus,” Colella said. But students who reached junior standing in the second year on campus and took more than two years to complete their degree would still pay the differential rate, he said

Pevenstein said the finance committee would revisit the issue when it reconvenes in the fall and may recommend that the full Board of Regents amend the policy as Colella suggested.