Summer classes might not be the deal you think they are

Pippa Mason

Editor's note: This column was submitted to the Texan by a member of the UT community.

Last week, in the same breath, the Office of the President announced that summer tuition for undergraduates would be 50% of the fall and spring rates, while graduate student summer tuition would remain unchanged at 85% of fall and spring rates.

As a graduate student, like my peers, I was greatly disappointed to hear this. However, I tried to focus on the silver lining — that 15% discount had to be something, right? I could shift some classes to summer to free up time in the fall when (fingers crossed) shelter-in-place orders would be lifted.

That’s when I did the math.

My realization? Taking summer classes isn’t cheaper for the majority of students because UT sets tuition so that the marginal cost of each credit hour decreases as you add credits. For example, for social work, the cost of my first three credit hours this upcoming fall semester is $2,280, while the cost of my fifth three-hour class is only $866. 

Now let’s look at a summer scenario. Say I decided to take that fifth class this summer to lighten my load for the fall. I would pay $1,938 in summer tuition. While that price tag is 85% of the cost of my first three credit hours in the fall, it would be over twice what I would have paid if I stuck to taking all 15 of my hours in the fall. 

This general pattern holds true across the different graduate schools. For full-time undergraduates, taking summer classes may make even less financial sense since tuition is flat once they take 12 or more credits per semester. 

So, what should change? At the minimum, UT should be more transparent and provide better financial advising for students. Educate students during academic advising that taking summer classes can be more expensive. Expand the cost of tuition calculator to help students compare taking classes in different semesters and see the cumulative cost of their degree across semesters.

In general, summer classes are overpriced and should be based on the true average cost of a class. Right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, UT should extend the 50% rate offered to undergraduates to graduate students. To provide some example math again, a 50% rate would mean that I would pay $969 in the summer for that fifth class that would cost $866 in the fall. UT would still gain an extra $103. 

Some of my peers are withdrawing from classes this spring because of impacts from COVID-19. Others are unemployed or furloughed and might need to take classes this summer so they can work extra hours in the fall and spring. Some are already thinking of taking a leave of absence.

The plans announced today by the dean of the graduate school will help significantly, but UT can do more to help students do the math to make ends meet. 

You can explore some of the numbers yourself with this Google Sheet I put together.

Mason is a social work graduate student from Dallas.