punishing students

During childhood, it’s completely normal to try out different sports or activities or even friends to find which ones suit you best. During adolescence, teenagers change their styles and attitudes constantly before they find one that fits them. Throughout life, we move from relationship to relationship typically on a quest to find someone who fits well with us. The most important things in life revolve around, at the most basic level, a trial and error mindset. So why should college be any different?

Many students change their major an average of three times throughout college and a sizable percentage of college freshman are completely undecided in what they intend to study. This is not at all a bad thing; it’s completely healthy and normal. Students need to take at least an intro class in something before completely locking into a major. As a freshman, I was an engineering major until I took the intro class and decided it wasn’t for me. Luckily, I was also taking an intro to psychology class (simply as an elective) which blossomed into my major. Throughout my five semesters in college, I’ve taken a few extra classes outside of my major or minor simply because they were interesting to me. Some of these have been terribly boring; however most of these have been ‘fun classes’ for me. I’ve taken rock climbing and political science classes and was planning to take a few more fun classes like yoga, gymnastics, or maybe scuba diving until I read about a new business model proposed to the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Manning proposed a new business model which would help TBR colleges (including MTSU) cope with the upcoming budget cuts. The model did not pass, however, the state has “agreed to lift [the] tuition cap so that students would be charged for each hour they take. No more flat price for 12 hours and up, with hope to end ‘course shopping’ and help students needing specific courses at overcrowded institutions,” as stated in an email sent around to MTSU staff.

Tell me how ‘course shopping’ has ever harmed anyone. I understand that there can be students who need a certain class to graduate and it ends up full by the time they register or situations where a student wanted to take a class this semester but they’ll have to wait until the spring, but these situations are not the end of the world. Often, if a students absolutely has to have a class to graduate at that specific time slot, overrides can be made, paperwork can be filed, and the student can get in the class. If your class is full this semester, either try to get an override, wait until drop day at midnight, or just wait until next semester. Who’s to say that the students who have filled up the class aren’t just as interested in it as those who are majoring in it? Who’s to say that a student who takes a class on a whim won’t develop a lifetime passion for that subject? I know personally if I was forced to limit my class selection to 12 hours or have to worry about paying more for ‘fun classes,’ I might not have taken them. If I hadn’t taken various fun classes, I would not be the person I am today.

Colleges encourage ‘general education’ courses to make students into well rounded individuals in society. This works, to an extent. Taking classes outside of your major/minor/general education requirements allows you to see what else is out there and explore new areas you might have never gotten to experience.
When students take classes outside of their required ones, it also allows them to meet new people from different majors. While you might not become best friends with the person you sit next to in the poli sci class you take for fun, you just might begin to see the world from a different perspective, or at least be exposed to a different view.

By subliminally discouraging students from taking ‘fun classes’ out of the required list, it discourages students from exploring what else is out there and essentially forces freshman to pick a major and stick with it by the end of their first year of college.

That’s unnecessary.

Time after time, studies have shown that 18-24 is that age where young people, if allowed to explore different areas, flourish and discover new passions and career paths they might never have known even existed. Some textbooks call this a psychosocial moratorium, but to me it only seems natural that we should try out different classes, jobs, relationships, friends, etc before we settle into something especially during our 20s.

I understand that the budget is being cut and that requires changes across the university, however, punishing students who just want to figure out what else is out there is possibly the worst solution I can think of. It forces students to make a decision early in their college career before accurately exploring their options, punishes students who enjoy taking classes outside of their major, and will ultimately lead to the potential demise of certain programs.

Many students have part of their tuition paid for through scholarships or grants, but a large percentage don’t have this luxury and are forced to pay either out of pocket or through loans. If tuition goes to a ‘pay by the hour’ system, students who are not on scholarship (and possibly even some who are) will look to save money by taking only the minimum classes they need to graduate, which is fiscally responsible.

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say a student gets into her spring semester of sophomore year in a business program and decides that she hates all of her business classes and wants to become an elementary school teacher. With block tuition (the current system of 12+ hours costing the same) she can change her major and graduate nearly on time by simply taking the maximum 18 hours a semester. With the proposed new pay-by-the-hour system, this student might reconsider changing for financial reasons, thus remaining chained to a major she doesn’t enjoy. In my opinion, sticking with a program you hate will only lead to resentment and unhappiness later.

Another potentially alarming occurrence would be the diminishing of physical education classes on campus. Right now, many students sign up for yoga, weight training, rock climbing, swimming, social dance, and any number of other physical education classes that fit into their schedule simply because the options are there and it doesn’t cost any extra. With a pay-by-the-hour system, students might reconsider these classes to save money. Some of these classes lead students to lifetime hobbies or are the stepping stone to a daily physical fitness routine. Either way, they have positive effects and the new system could diminish these effects significantly.

In conclusion, a pay-by-the-hour system would save schools money, but discourages students from taking extra classes, causes some students to stay in majors they dislike, and could eventually diminish programs such as physical education. Ultimately, this does nothing to enhance students college experience and only causes potential problems for students who want to explore different options.


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