ORLANDO — Records show that more Florida college students are paying double for racking up too many credit hours.
According to an Orlando Sentinel analysis of school records, about 3,770 students were charged about $2.35 million in excess credit-hour surcharges during the fall 2015 semester at the University of Central Florida, University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida. That compares to one year earlier when roughly 1,760 students paid about $851,120 in penalties at the four schools.
The typical bachelor's degree requires 120 credits to complete and students are allowed to take up to 132 credits without any penalties. After that, students who enrolled in fall 2011 or later are charged an excess credit hour surcharge that is double the tuition rate.
The fees are required under a 2009 law enacted during the economic downturn to push graduates to finish school on time and save tax dollars by reducing the number of enrolled students. Some students were grandfathered in through the years and the requirements have changed, which could explain the large increase in 2015, according to university officials.
Stephanie Samples changed majors a few times, starting with theater and singing, then switching to psychology before landing on graphic design. By then it was too late to avoid paying double tuition.
"If you don't know what you want to do, it's hard to experiment with different classes," said Samples, 23, of Daytona Beach, who graduates in 2017. "Once you hit (so many credits), you get hit."
Tuition at UCF, the largest school in the state, cost $105.07 per credit hour this past year, but under the penalty, the price rises to $210.14. Nearly 2,000 UCF students were charged $1.25 million in surcharges in fall 2015, according to school records
University officials say they're advising students on how to avoid paying the penalty.
"We want students to graduate and be successful, and we don't want to drag them along to take a long time," said the University of Central Florida registrar Brian Boyd. "The challenge is we want to make students as educated as possible early on so they can make those decisions if they want to be a double major or repeat a course."
Heidi Mattern majors in music and anthropology at UCF and has only taken the classes she needed for her two majors to graduate sooner. Yet, she pays the surcharge.
The university will reimburse double majors for the surcharges after graduation but if they drop one of their two majors before then, the fee will stand.