State Rep. attempts to ease financial burden of excess credit hour surcharge at UCF

State Rep. Amber Mariano speaks during a House Education committee meeting. Rep. Mariano is currently working to get a bill passed that would increased the amount of credits students can take before they experience an excess credit hour surcharge. 

College students across Florida pay hundreds of dollars each year in fees due to excess credit hour surcharges, but a bill making its way through the Florida House of Representatives could change that.

State Rep. Amber Mariano of district 36 introduced House Bill 257 in January. This bill would allow students an extra 10 percent of excess credit hours on top of the 10 percent they currently have, to bring the total to 20 percent for students. 

That extra percentage would give students with a 132 credit hour degree – the most common degree requirement – an extra 26 credit hours, according to the UCF course catalog. This bill would give students allowance to change their major and add a minor without stress of paying the excess credit surcharge, Mariano said.

A statute passed in 2009 made it so students who exceeded 110 percent of the credit hours required for their degree would have to pay a 100 percent surcharge on their tuition.

The statute has since resulted in millions of dollars in fees being paid by thousands of students in Florida.

Mariano, who is a UCF graduate student, said she has been working every year since her election in 2016 to ease the burden the state puts on students.

Mariano said she was not personally affected by the surcharge. However, during her time as an undergraduate student at UCF she said she saw many of her peers be affected.

“I have friends where they feel so passionately about this,” Mariano said. “They sent me their degree audits to show, ‘Look I didn’t fail my classes, I didn’t switch my major, but I wanted to advance my career and take up a minor that was gonna help me get this job.’”

Connor Murchie, senior nursing student at UCF, was initially not accepted into the nursing program like many people attempting a nursing degree at UCF, his mother, Samantha Murchie, said. 

In fall 2018 about 26 percent of nursing applicants were accepted, according to school records. Connor Murchie was part of the 74 percent of students not accepted, but Samantha Murchie said he did not let the rejection set him back.

“So instead of sitting out, he retook a class for a higher grade and also pursued a minor in health sciences while he waited for the next admission,” Samantha Murchie said.

Connor Murchie wanted to further his education regardless of whether or not he was accepted into the nursing major, and so he would have a backup plan in case nursing school did not work out. He also pursued a leadership program as a freshman that added an additional four credits, Samantha Murchie said. Instead of being rewarded for his initiative to further his career, Samantha Murchie said Connor Murchie was hit with a $2,005 surcharge.

Samantha Murchie took to Facebook and commented on a post by Mariano to express her support for Mariano’s bill.

“The statute should definitely be amended or eliminated," Samantha Murchie wrote. "It can create a hardship for some students. This felt more like a punishment rather than an incentive, especially given that there is a nationwide nursing shortage. And it also raises the question about where the money goes.”

Samantha Murchie said she was proud of Connor Murchie's career choice, aside from the monetary implications it caused.

Mariano said she recognized the surcharge as a problem for many UCF students and has made it her mission to help fix it. She said she wanted to be a voice for students when she was elected.

“There [are] just so many issues that affect our students that really go under the radar, that aren't necessarily the most appealing issues to work on,” Mariano said. “Our students are being charged double tuition that can result in people not being able to finish their degrees or not being able to get the minor or do the leadership program that is gonna help them in their career.”

Mariano said she knows that this problem is negatively affecting students who are attempting to choose their major, and she also believes it has affected STEM students the worst, which are majors that focus on the topics of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It really affects our STEM students the hardest because their degrees are so narrowly tailored that if they take a minor, [or if] they [get] in a leadership program, they usually get charged,” Mariano said.

The excess credit hour surcharge has always been a target of her bills. Mariano said she recognizes that the surcharge was implemented with good intentions, but she felt it could be improved.

“That was the intent of this, was to make sure that our students weren’t hanging around for seven or eight years, but most students don’t hit this after several years, they hit it for their last semester or their last few credits,” Mariano said.

In 2018, Mariano sponsored House Bill 565, which made universities return surcharges to a “first-time-in-college student who completes a bachelor's degree with 4 years after his or her initial enrollment.”

Mariano said she feels confident about the chances of her bill being passed.

“I think we have a good shot, but you never know,” Mariano said.

The bill is currently in the Higher Education Appropriations Committee. If passed, the bill will become immediately effective and students who enroll as first-time students in summer 2019 and later will be allowed an additional 20 percent of credits in excess of their required degree. 

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