Higher credit policy not yet effective

So long, slowpokes,” began a recent Star Tribune article. “The days of dawdling toward a degree at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus appear to be ending.” Last week interim University President Robert Bruininks claimed success in the effort to improve graduation rates, as the number of students taking a full load of classes has increased from 70 percent to approximately 79 percent this year. However, although the administration is bragging, it is too early to tell whether the 9 percent increase is cause for celebration. Only time will tell if these students will continue their dedication into the coming semester and beyond. Ultimately, the administration must be careful about pushing too hard on students to take more credits.

New students must contend with the ever-increasing cost of education. The University raises tuition each year, apparently because the Board of Regents and the Legislature believe students have money trees potted in their dorm rooms, and because administration evidently prefers to spend available cash on dubious construction projects. In addition to the basic cost of tuition, students must endure with myriad additional costs, including transportation, housing and food, to cite the basics.

In order to meet these needs, many students must find employment outside of school hours. University efforts to encourage students to take more credits cut into either job time or study time. For a student who must work to pay the rent, the only choice is to study less. Housing is not an optional expense, and the University has yet to offer affordable options that would allow serious students to cut back on working hours.

Dorms cost nearly as much as a basic apartment near campus. Basic apartments, however, are becoming scarce among such new luxury buildings as Grand Marc and the Melrose Apartments. Most of these new private apartment options approach $700 per month, per tenant. There are not enough grants and scholarships available to make these living arrangements feasible for students who are not independently wealthy, and as long as nothing changes, students will have to work to afford them.

In the end, the University administration will have to acknowledge that students cannot learn when they are struggling to make rent every month. To encourage students to take more credits than they can effectively study for exacerbates a common problem at the expense of the quality of education. A university should not churn out automatons for the work force, it should aim to create an educated public. A four-year degree is only valuable if the person holding it did not earn it taking dumbed-down classes designed to move him or her through the system quickly.

Money and education are, sadly, inseparable. Higher four-year graduation rates are an important ambition to strive for, but if the administration wants to speed up the process, it should lessen the financial burden on students so they can devote more time to classes. If students can go to school without working at the same time, they will. And if students don’t have to work, they will take more classes, with or without institutional coercion.