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A Drake policy change may cause some J-Term students to take a different schedule or pay a fee

Grace Altenhofen

Starting with January Term 2024, some J-Term students may have to take a different course load than usual or pay an overload fee. 

Drake Provost Sue Mattison announced in April’s Faculty Senate meeting that students who take more than 15 credits in spring semester and three credits in J-Term will be charged an overload fee. Until next year, students can take 18 credits in the spring and a 3-credit J-Term without being charged the fee.

The undergraduate overload fee is currently $1,271 per credit hour over 18, Drake Registrar Jennifer Tran-Johnson said in an email. The fee “may or may not increase for the 2023-2024 academic year,” and any increase will be decided by Drake’s Board of Trustees, she said. 

If the fee remains the same, a student who takes an 18-credit spring semester and a 3-credit J-Term in 2024 will be charged $3,813 in addition to their spring tuition.

Mattison said in an email that this change will also cause students who take 9, 10 or 11 credits in the spring and a 3-credit J-Term to be counted as full-time students for their Drake financial aid and Drake’s federal reporting, to their benefit. 

“Those students will receive their Drake financial aid package, which is different for each student,” Mattison said in the email. “We ran the numbers on past J-term/spring students, and found that students were likely to pay less tuition because of their Drake financial aid.” 

Drake Chief Financial Officer Adam Voigts explained the financial reason for the decision.

“Full-time undergraduate tuition is intended to cover university costs assuming students take no more than 18 credits in a term,” Voigts said in an email. “When students take more than 18 credits, overload tuition is charged to cover the additional university costs. Billing for J-term had not been set up this way so the university was not covering its costs for students that took 18 or more credits in spring plus a J-term course.”

Mattison said there will be blanket waivers of the fee for PharmD students and students who take music ensembles as part of a scholarship or commitment to Drake. Exceptions to the fee are approved by the dean and provost, she said in an email to Drake’s student senate. 

Report indicates over a third of J-Term students in 2022 would have been charged the fee

In 2022, about 36% of Drake students who took a January Term took 18.5 or more credits across spring semester and J-Term, according to a report prepared by Drake registrar Jennifer Tran-Johnson and shared by Mattison in February. This number does not include pharmacy students or students who may have received an overload waiver for more than 18 hours in the spring.

Deputy Provost of Academic Affairs Renee Cramer said in an interview in April that students may make a different decision about their course load because of the fee.

“How that then impacts individual students I think is variable,” Cramer said. “For some students, that means, ‘Oh, I’m not going to graduate the semester early… For some students, it means, oh, it is worthwhile for me to go on this travel seminar and still do my entire necessary curriculum in the spring. And okay, I’ll figure out a way to make that work.’” 

Biology professor Jerry Honts expressed concern about some science students potentially being charged the upcoming overload fee. 

“…A lot of our majors in the sciences and BCMB are double, even triple majors,” Honts said in an interview in May.  “So that makes it very tight, and people are using J-Term as a way to get the hours you need and the courses you need, like AOIs you need to graduate.”

Drake second-year Alexandra McGinnis said she is used to taking 16 and often 17 to 18 credit hours.

“Sadly, now [the fee] will force me to limit my academic loads to a point where I’m not comfortable with [it],” McGinnis said in a direct message. 

Mattison said that this year, Drake has implemented a different fee of $50 per credit hour for January Term students. 

The fee is to offset additional costs of delivering unique experiences that occur in the courses offered in a condensed format during J-term,” Mattison said in an email.

The marketing of January Term

The policy change raises the question of whether or not the fee conflicts with how the term was marketed to students. 

Dean of Admissions Annie Kremer said that admissions staff highlighted J-Term as an experience with no additional costs for students, except for travel and excursion costs, according to a March 2020 Faculty Senate report. They also highlight how J-Term allows students to go abroad for a short time and try out an interest or a challenging subject, she said.

“Students really light up when they hear about how students leverage this as a study abroad opportunity,” Kremer said, according to the 2020 report.  

Mattison said that the new fee does not conflict with Drake’s marketing of J-Term. 

“No, because students are able to take J-Term for free,” Mattison said in an interview in April. “It takes planning and talking with an advisor.”

Amber Guzzo, the academic affairs student senator for the 2021-2022 year, said in an April interview that Drake is starting to push for students to have their classes planned out years in the future. 

“We’re hoping to change the way that Drake students think about their schedules so that they are looking one or two years out, so then when they’re planning to take a J-Term, or planning to take 18 credits, they can figure it out ahead of time,” Guzzo said. 

Moving away from the overload policy adopted in J-Term’s early years

Voigts said that when J-Term was created, the billing system wasn’t set up to charge the overload fee. The spring semester is currently linked to J-Term for financial aid purposes, but not for billing, according to Voigts.

“We are unaware of the reason it was set up this way,” Voigts said. 

A 2012 faculty senate report indicates that Drake initially did not intend to charge the particular fee that will be implemented in J-Term 2024. That report and a faculty senate report in March 2020 said “each semester/term is independent from the others in terms of the number of allowed credits without charge for full-time students.” 

The impact on January Term courses

Honts expressed concern that new fees could create a cycle in which fewer students take J-Term, classes become unsustainable, and so faculty members stop investing time preparing J-Term courses.

If fewer students take J-Term because of the new overload policy, Cramer doesn’t think that would impact the number of J-Term courses that Drake will offer. This is because Drake offers 30 to 40 J-Term courses every year, she said, and students who stop taking J-Term are “going to be distributed across the disciplines.” 

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