Students in the University System of Maryland will face new pressure to graduate within four years under policies approved yesterday by the Board of Regents.
Starting with next fall's freshman class, the system's 11 campuses will be required to limit to 120 the number of credits needed to complete most majors. Students who take more than 120 credits - the number a full-time student would typically take in four years - could face possible penalties.
The regents are expected to decide later what penalties might be imposed. A leading possibility being discussed would be to charge students higher tuition after 132 credits, a policy used by some schools nationally.
In another step aimed at freeing classroom space, students will be encouraged to take 12 credits through online courses or internships. And freshmen who enroll in the spring semester will be urged to earn 12 credits before they arrive on campus by taking classes at community colleges or online.
The new policies "will help tremendously in creating space and efficiency," said system Chancellor William E. Kirwan.
State funding for the system, which includes all of Maryland's public four-year colleges and universities except Morgan State University and St. Mary's College, declined in recent years, and regents have been trying to find ways to cut costs. A task force issued a 16-point efficiency report in the fall that recommended that students be pushed to graduate faster.
The policies adopted yesterday could create enough space for an additional 2,100 students over the next three years without an increase in state funding, system officials have said. That represents a value of nearly $9.5 million next year, they said.
The extra space would come at a critical time. System officials expect an influx of up to 40,000 students over the next decade and say they do not have enough space for all of them.
Regent James C. Rosapepe said yesterday that too many majors needlessly require more than 120 credits. "We've experienced an upward creep, and it's not good for the universities or students," he said.
Students who are taking five-year majors or programs that are required by the federal government to have more than 120 credits would be exempt from the limit. Exceptions could also be granted by university officials.
Regent Joseph D. Tydings said he believes the policy encouraging students to take nontraditional courses could help them after they graduate. Tydings said he hopes professors would work with their students to find internships that could lead to jobs.
"It would be a huge assistance to the individual students," Tydings said.
But some students interviewed yesterday said they are concerned about the 120-credit limit. Rachel McMullin, president of a student-rights group at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said she will have to take more than 120 credits because her adviser did not tell her early enough about some course requirements. McMullin was also concerned that students who transferred to the school with previously earned credits might not be able to take all the classes they want and that double majors could be punished.
"It's an unfair policy that puts students in a box," she said.
System officials have said that they will work to improve counseling services and that double majors will not suffer.
The system's student board approved the policies, said Nicolas Aragon, the group's chair. He said he believes students would not oppose a program that penalizes them financially for taking too many courses.
"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of debate, but I know I support the idea. There will still be plenty of credits to take electives," he said.
The policy: Beginning next fall, the university system will limit to 120 the number of credits needed to complete most majors. Students in five-year majors would be exempt.
The reason: The university expects an increase in students over the next decade, and it says it does not have enough space for all of them. Also, declines in state funding have the system looking for ways to operate more efficiently.
The impact: Students who take more credits could face financial penalties, such as higher tuition after 132 credits.