Overload fees introduced in 2012-2013 academic year

Jamie Cartwright

(Photo courtesy of Elise Massicote.)

In President Jill Beck’s annual letter concerning changes to tuition and fees, starting the 2012-2013 school year, students will have to pay a fee to register a scheduling overload. To clarify, the Course Catalog currently defines an overload as “24 or more units in a single term.”

According to the administration, the statement did not explain the new plan’s details because the fee is still being evaluated. Provost and Dean of the Faculty Dave Burrows explained that the fee and the level of credit at which a fee will be charged have not been determined. In a statement, Beck explained, “we are working on an overload policy that will address the concerns, needs and interests of Lawrence students, in balance with other concerns, including financial.”

The plan is being reviewed by a group of faculty and staff called the Long-Range Financial Planning Committee, which works to coordinate financial planning with programming planning. Beck said that she hopes to have a full recommendation from this group later this term. The administration will then create a policy for the 2012-2013 school year based on these recommendations. However, Beck did state, “Students currently enrolled, who have entered Lawrence without this policy in place, would not be affected by any change. So, current freshmen, sophomores, juniors and continuing seniors would not be affected by a new overload policy.”

Burrows reasoned that the proposed curricular change is about both university finances and student welfare. As Burrows put it, “the perceived stress levels” at Lawrence have contributed to a growing concern about university programming. The administration aims to eliminate any possibility that the cost and credit structure at Lawrence encourage unhealthy choices. “Student comments to advisors and administrators have highlighted the extent to which extreme overloading has led to undue stress,” stated Beck.

Burrows also explained that a large numbers of overloads contribute to an artificial rise in university costs by putting strain on class size. For example, extra enrollment in lab courses produces more materials expenses.

Overloads may also contribute to the rising number of students who request to graduate early. When a student overloads to attain enough credits to graduate before the student’s senior year, Lawrence charges the missing tuition after the student graduates. “[Charging students retroactively] amounts to an overload fee after the fact, which is unacceptable,” according to Burrows. “We need to find a more rational approach.”

President Beck rationalized the issue saying, “This retroactive billing produces hard feelings among students, which is understandable. However, from your college’s perspective, Lawrence won’t survive if it does not charge for overloads but does offer degrees early.”

The president provided Lawrence’s individualized learning opportunities as a third reason for charging for overloads. “Lawrence has an enviable student-faculty ratio, which hovers around nine to one. This would seem to predict small classes on a broad scale. However, overloading has raised class levels beyond what students should expect, and extreme overloading is placing more students in more classes,” stated Beck. “Faculty feel that they have a very intense teaching workload, and overloading is certainly a factor in placing more students in their classes.”

Beck’s concern for conserving individualized learning at Lawrence also extends to students. Many students who overload do so with tutorial, independent studies or specialized academic internships.

Also, double degree students, who aim to collect both B.A. and B.Mus. degrees when graduating, utilize the flexibility of Lawrence’s no-cost overload to fulfill major requirements within five years.

According to Burrows, the new overload policy will still ensure the ability of double degree students to graduate within five years. The policy will also “support some level of overload as ‘within normal'” according to Beck.