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Flat-rate tuition aims to cut costs, spike grad rates

University of Oklahoma officials announced in June full-time undergraduate students will pay a flat rate for tuition and fees beginning  this fall.

Officials say the plan encourages students to accelerate the undergraduate program and increase the university’s four-year graduation rate.

The OU plan allows students to take between 12 and 21 credits per semester in a three-tier system: residents pay $4,458 per semester; non-residents pay $10,552 per semester; and international students are charged the non-residential rate, plus about $1,450 annually.

In contrast, Oral Roberts University has operated on a flat-rate tuition system since its founding in 1965.

Currently, full-time undergraduate  students may enroll in 18.5 credit hours per semester for combined tuition and fees of $11,254 per semester.

Tonya Helm, ORU director of budget and student financial services, said ORU has maintained flat-rate tuition to encourage students to take 15 credits each semester.

“Full-time students pay less with flat-rate tuition than part-time students who are paying per credit hour,” Helm said.

Grad Rates According to the National Center for Education Statistics, ORU’s four year graduation rate is 49 percent and five-year rate is 57.7 percent.

The University of Oklahoma’s “Retention of Undergraduate Students Fall 2012” report by the office of Institutional Research and Reporting lists OU four-year graduation rates at 21.6 percent from 2008-12 and five-year rates at 50.7 percent from 2007-11.

OU senior Josh Henderson planned on extending his graduation by a  semester by taking two 12-credit semesters and one six-credit semester. After OU implemented the flat-pay system, he changed his mind.

“I might as well take 15 credit hours since I am being charged for them, but I almost had to take out a loan to cover the additional credit hours because my financial aid did not [cover them],” Henderson said.

Tommy Moses, OU senior, said he will graduate in five years regardless of the flat-rate tuition. Class scheduling is part of the graduation hurdle.

“Every semester was different; it depended on what classes I had to take versus what classes were available,” Moses said. “Some semesters I would take 15 hours and others I would take 12 [hours] because that is all that was available to me.”

OU officials based the university’s tuition on 15 credit hours and said overall tuition rates weren’t raised this year.

ORU’s 2013-14 tuition increased $417 per semester for full-time students over the past year.

According to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, as tuition rates rise, students rely more heavily on government funding and pay less in out-of-pocket costs.

However, concerns over the growing federal budget deficit and legislative constraints may limit future contributions of government-funded programs. The annual “Trends in College Pricing  2012” report suggests student aid programs may not keep up with tuition-cost increases.

Degree in Three (Years) 

In an effort to help  defray costs, ORU offers a Degree in Three program in more than 33 academic areas.

Not only are cost savings realized by shortening the number of enrolled years, but students are also able to enter the workforce earlier and start earning a paycheck.

David Murray, senior biology major, is pursuing a degree in three years.

“I am an older student and saw an opportunity to save money, graduate sooner and get to medical school as soon as I can,” said Murray.

Murray, 23, decided to cut a year of undergrad after  realizing he wasn’t  signed up for the maximum number of classes. He has taken 18.5 credit hours since his second semester at ORU.

“I’d encourage students to make sure they’re utilizing all the available resources. With flat rate tuition, you get what you pay for,” Murray said.

For Murray, the financial payoff by completing his degree in three years has been a key motivator.

“I love ORU, but I don’t love ORU to the point that I want to spend $31,000 I don’t have,” he said.

Other Trends

Additionally, students are filling their own funding gaps in creative ways.

Senior Michael Garcia transferred into ORU as a sophomore from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

“The cost of tuition, room and board was about 70 percent of what I pay at ORU,” Garcia said. “But, the university program wasn’t engaging and the professors weren’t working with me outside of class like they do here.”

Garcia, a media major, and his brother Gabriel Garcia, a senior studio art major, both spent the 2013 spring semester working to earn money to re-enroll and complete their degrees at ORU.

“The ORU Financial Aid office helped me find extra funds to complete my degree and finish at ORU,” Michael Garcia said.

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