Barnard Students Accuse College Of 'Extortion'

Barnard College recently angered its student body by announcing that seniors will no longer be allowed to register (and pay) for part-time enrollment in their finals semesters. This means many students have to scramble to graduate early — and pay extra for that privilege.

This year, Barnard tuition runs $40,422 — but many students thought they could reduce that by taking fewer credits in their final semester, and paying a reduced rate. This option is still listed on Barnard's website as of today, but on Wednesday, Dean Avis Hinkson eliminated it. In a letter to students, she said, "We understand that it has been a practice, though not a policy, for students who opted to take less than 12 credits in their final semester to pay part-time fees for that semester. As of next fall, this will no longer be permitted." Hinkson explained,

Barnard has always been a four-year college with a strong commitment to community and, as such, we believe that it is in the academic interest of all of our students to spread required credits over the total number of enrolled semesters. Our staffing and financial plans are developed based on full-time enrollment projections. A practice of students opting to become part-time students means that our resources are not being used at the optimal level. We are making this change in order to be financially responsible and, most importantly, to continue to be able to provide you with the best possible education.

Some Barnard students aren't buying the "four-year college" excuse — in an email to us, Hannah Serena Goldstein called the explanation "reprehensible" and said that "the motives are clearly strictly financial." She added, "Many students see this as tantamount to extortion, and not only extortion of students, but of the poorest students (in addition to any others who had planned around studying part-time, paying less, and starting to work)."

Not all schools offer a part-time option for seniors — Columbia, for instance, offers per-credit tuition payment only for those who have already completed eight semesters. Barnard could argue it's just bringing itself in line with other institutions that require full-time enrollment. The timing of the move, however, is still questionable. As a petition against the new policy points out, "Dean Hinkson sprung this policy upon the students without warning and one month into the school year — well after the registration deadline had passed, and well after the deadline for Senior Seminars had passed, leaving students blindsided. Many now have to pay late registration fees to change their schedules in order to graduate early, because plans of part-time enrollment are no longer possible." Basically, some students will now need to shave a semester off their Barnard careers — and they'll have to pay to do it. The late registration fee is currently set at $175, and it increases weekly (with special permission and extra paperwork, it's apparently possible to get the fee waived).

Forcing students to hastily rearrange their plans in order to graduate early, and pay an extra fee to do so, hardly fits into Barnard's stated mission as a "four-year college." A Bwog commenter has a better idea: "Only apply the policy to students admitted Fall 2012 and later. Now all the current students can still have a part-time semester if they were planning on it, and all future students will apply to Barnard knowing they have to pay 8 full semesters. Everyone is happy." Well, maybe not everyone. No one likes to see a money-saving policy end, and with college costs (and college debt) rising precipitously at a time when young people are having such a hard time getting jobs, making education more expensive is never going to be popular. But if Barnard let students know what they were getting into beforehand, at least they could make an informed decision.

Full-Time Tuition Changes Anger BC Students [Columbia Spectator]
Barnard Announces Significant Changes To Tuition Fees [Bwog]
Bursars Office: Redact The New Full-Time Fee Policy [Change.org]