Ponnada: Include all students in summer grant

BY SRI PONNADA | APRIL 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Summer — a period of time that every college student looks forward to after months of stress, studying, and sleepless nights. Finally, a chance to go back to your hometown, relax, and party harder than you did in Iowa City — unless you decide to take advantage of a sizzling hot deal on summer tuition.

Just last month, University of Iowa officials unveiled a spanking new initiative called the Summer Hawk Tuition Grant. The program, which will provide free tuition for in-state students and in-state tuition rates for out-of-state students, is aimed at improving four-year graduation rates and increasing summer enrollment.

But don’t get too excited; only first-years and first-time students who enroll in the summer or fall of 2013 at the university are qualified for this summer scholarship program— an aspect UI officials should seriously consider amending.

So what about the old folks?

UI senior Emilia Gaps has never enrolled in a summer session because it is too expensive for her. Gaps spent all her summers working in order to work less during the school year and focus on her academics. However, she said that had she been given a scholarship, she would have definitely taken summer classes.

“If I’d had a summer scholarship, I would’ve been able to lighten my load during the [other] semester,” Gaps said. “It would’ve allowed me to pursue a better degree, and I would’ve been able to visit my family during the school year.”

Last summer, 5,849 undergraduate students were enrolled in the summer session, generating more than 50 percent of the summer population at UI. The total percentage of undergraduates enrolled, however, included only 2.2 percent of first-year students; sophomores, juniors, and seniors accounted for 7 percent, 14.7 percent, and 20.5 percent, respectively.

With more upper classmen investing in summer sessions than first-years, why is it that only incoming students will reap the rewards?

“With statistics like that, you can see why they’re [the university] pushing free summer classes for first-years, right?” said UI sophomore Austin Lovan.

He will take summer classes this year to stay caught up with school. Even though he will not benefit from the program, he doesn’t have much issue with it, other than that he sees the program just as another way to attract more students to the university.

While increased numbers of students enrolling can mean wonderful things for the UI, this brings up the question whether attracting new students have more precedence than retaining and rewarding current ones.

“I think it’s good to give new students an incentive to enroll at UI,” Gaps said. “But with tuition constantly on the rise, I feel this benefit should be passed on to students in need of financial assistance — especially those who manage to attend school full-time while also working a full-time job.”

When it’s obvious that so many current students could benefit from being included in the Summer Hawk Tuition Grant, why is it that they are virtually being ignored?

“I’ve been in college for four years, and I’ll graduate this May,” Gaps said. “Working 20 to 30 hours a week, I couldn’t believe I managed to make it in four years.”

UI senior Kathleen Donovan started school in fall of 2009. After finishing this semester, she will have to take about 9 to 12 credits more in order to graduate — credits that in-state incoming students will be able to take free of cost.

“I’m a senior now with a double major, but I won’t graduate until this winter because I started my second major later than my first one, so I have to catch up with classes for my second major,” Donovan said.

As an in-state student, Donovan pays for school with mostly student loans and some help from her parents, and she wishes that the new summer program would be made available to other students as well.

“I understand that’s how they usually institute new policies, but it is disappointing because there is going to be this whole section of students who will not be able to utilize the new scholarship program and to reap its benefits,” she said.

Had this scholarship been available to all students just a few years ago, Donovan would have graduated months earlier, saving her more than $4,000 dollars in student loans — the total resident tuition and fees for fall 2013. Time really is money.

Sadly, Donovan has to stick around and pay more money for those 12 measly credits. I’m pretty certain that this time next year, there will be at least one student on campus in the same situation as her.

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