A tuition change approved Thursday by Lincoln University's Board of Curators is intended to encourage students to enroll in more college credit hours, and hopefully complete their coursework before they run out of financial aid.
The flat rate tuition approved by a 5-2-1 vote will not affect graduate students and is not an across-the-board tuition rate increase, said Sandy Koetting, LU's vice president for administration and finance.
Instead, the cost of $3,954.85 per semester for enrollment in 15 credit hours will also apply to credit loads of 12-18 hours.
In other words, students who take 12 credit hours will actually pay for 15 — which is a $654.75 cost increase per semester compared to the current rate for 12 credit hours.
LU President Jerald Jones Woolfolk said the four previous schools she's worked at all used a flat tuition rate, and as far as she knew from her experiences, there weren't any negatives to a flat tuition system.
Woolfolk added many LU students take 12 credit hour course loads.
The problem the tuition rate change is intended to address is that students with lighter course loads each semester take longer to graduate, and many students' financial aid runs out before they can graduate.
"Fifty percent of students who come here do not graduate in eight years," Woolfolk said.
The school's four-year graduation rate for students seeking a bachelor's degree is 9 percent, and the six-year rate is 22 percent.
Students' federal Pell Grant eligibility expires after six years.
"Most of our students do run out of aid," Financial Aid Director Kala Smith said.
"I think I could be persuaded to vote for this," Curator Richard Popp said of the proposal, but he said he did not have enough information.
Koetting said LU used to have a flat rate tuition in the 1990s, but there wasn't any data available on how it had affected the school's graduation rate then. There also wasn't data immediately available on how a similar change as what the Board of Curators approved has affected other institutions.
Curators Victor Pasley and Popp voted against the tuition proposal. Everidge Cade Jr. abstained.
Curator Marvin Teer Jr. said the prospect of students graduating in a timely manner sold him on the proposal.
Even so, Curator President Frank Logan Sr. said: "This is not going to be a saving grace for every student on campus." Students each have their individual circumstances, he said.
The board also received an update Thursday on the status of repairs to the LU president's house, which was damaged in the May 22 tornado.
Jeff Turner, director of LU's Office of Facilities and Planning, said the home's slate roof is installed, and exterior features including the trim and fascia are complete, as is 90 percent of the copper gutters.
Turner said LU is finishing up estimates with insurance for interior work, and the goal is to get Woolfolk back in her home in October — which would be past the previously stated planned completion of August.
Though renovation of the campus bookstore has also been delayed over the past year, twice, Marcus Chanay — vice president for student affairs — said two weeks of construction is expected to start March 9.
Chanay said the project is being paid for by Follett — the operator of the bookstore in the Scruggs University Center.
He said the renovation will include new floor, lighting and sales racks, and the merchandise that's on the first floor will be moved to the second floor, and vice versa.
Logan said the curators hope to have "Breakfast with Curators" in place for the next meeting — an informal opportunity for staff and faculty to communicate with board members over breakfast, 30 minutes before the meeting.