A number of public colleges and universities have said that they used federal stimulus funds to avoid or minimize tuition increases. Fort Hays State University may have a unique way to use the funds to help with college costs: It is paying students $5 for each credit they earn with a grade of C or higher. (Courses are typically three or four credits.)
The Kansas institution is receiving nearly $2.8 million in federal stimulus funds, and is using about $500,000 for two "tuition relief" programs. One program -- similar to an idea being adopted elsewhere -- would give state residents who have lost their jobs up to six credits of courses without being charged tuition. The other program -- called the Tuition Incentive Program -- will pay for the C (or better) grades. Only Kansas residents who are undergraduates are eligible and they will have the funds credited to their tuition bills for the following semester. Those who graduate this semester will be able to receive a check. The program continues next semester, but the stimulus dollars -- and the bonus for C grades or higher -- will then end.
Fort Hays has made a priority of minimizing tuition increases, and boasts of being the only public four-year institution in its region where tuition is under $100 a credit. But the university did increase tuition this year, by $6.85 a credit, to a total of $98.20 a credit. The idea of paying back $5 a credit to those who earn at least a C is to reverse most of that increase.
Edward H. Hammond, the president at Fort Hays, announced the plan in the summer, with the hope that it would motivate students during the fall semester.
But judging from an article this week in The University Leader, the student newspaper, the refund plan may not have had much of an impact on student behavior this semester. The article quoted the student body president as saying most students didn't know about the program. And the article quoted several students who will benefit as saying that they were surprised.
"It’ll actually help me out with my rent and everything else," one freshman said. "I think their reaction will be about the same as mine: shocked."
A spokesman for the university said Thursday that he hadn't heard of any discussion on campus about the appropriateness of paying for grades, and said that while it may not be common practice among colleges, "it's not among some parents."
The university doesn't know how much the offer will cost as final grades for the semester haven't been calculated.