Credit Hours and Cost
It not only matters in college which classes you take, but also how you schedule said classes. As such, let’s take a look at credit hour enrollment in light of affordability. But first it helps to know how your college charges for tuition, with the two basic flavors being per-hour and block rate. Figure out the specifics of your particular school’s billing metrics and you can save some serious coin.
The catalogs at an increasing number of schools will list a series of tuition rates, with the final charges dependent on the number of credit hours taken by a student. These schools will usually have a surprisingly homogeneous three-tier tuition rate formula similar to the following:
- The most expensive of the rates fall on those students taking a “part-time” course load, typically defined as less than 12 credit hours. These rates are listed in per-hour form, i.e. $X/credit hour.
- Students taking a more characteristic “full-time” course load of 12 to 18 hours can expect to pay a standard flat fee “block” tuition rate.
- Beyond that, students taking more than 18 hours in a semester will pay yet another set of rates, once again listed in per-hour form.
For example, following is an excerpt from one of my state’s private college’s catalog:
|Traditional Undergraduate||1-11 credits||$687.50/credit|
|Traditional Undergraduate||12-18 credits||$8,250/block|
|Traditional Undergraduate||19+ credits (block rate +)||$8,250 + $687.50/per credit above 18 credits|
In this instance, whether you enroll for 12 hours of class or 18 you pay the same flat amount. Obviously, then, students signing up for the 18 credit hours in a semester can expect to see a discount on their tuition when calculated as a per-credit rate relative to the students taking anything less. Students taking 12 credit hours would pay $687.50 per credit hour, the same rate paid by part-time students. No real savings there. However, students taking 18 credit hours at that same school would pay $458.33 per credit hour, a savings of nearly 33% per hour. That’s relatively substantial.
Note in this particular case, however, that any hours over and above the 18 credit hours don’t receive any discount at all, which is not always the case. Just down the road from this school is another institution that also offers block rates and also a discounted rate for any hours taken over 18. If a student can manage a higher workload there exists no financial disincentive to stop at 18 hours.
Tiered Per-Hour Tuition
On the other hand students attending schools with tiered per-hour tuition rates experience a different phenomenon. Typically they can expect one rate for part-time workloads, another rate for workloads within the 12 to 18 hour range, and a sometimes heavily discounted, if not free, rate for hours over and above the 18-hour “normal” workload.
Here students can also save money by setting the number of hours high, but only for those classes above the 18-hour mark, which may make sense financially. Keep in mind, though, that such a strategy comes with other risks. While you can survive taking more than 18 hours in a semester and many do it as a rule, it typically means giving something up in terms of time opportunities. Jobs and recreation can become unmanageable when the schedule includes more demanding courses.
The Other Benefit of High Credit Hours
Regardless the rate structure, students who maintain high workloads also achieve savings in other ways. Think about what consistent credit hour binges mean in terms of time: They qualify a student for early graduation. This can mean cutting out a semester or two from the typical college experience, which then saves money on enrollment fees, meals and housing. This would also mean a better return potential in that you get a career head start on your peers.
So before enrolling for classes first find out your school’s tuition structures and then plan accordingly. If you can handle it, it usually pays to work at the higher end of the hours scale. Major savings are in store if you can but shift your hours around.