Editorials

Editorial: Remove barriers to early graduation

By
Thursday, October 13, 2016

The requirement that students must complete or pay for eight semesters of college is classist and contradicts the supposedly fundamentally Brown tenet of allowing students to be the architects of their own educations.

Brown’s requirement of taking 30 courses seems reasonable enough, allowing for at least some academic exploration as well as the completion of a concentration or two. Most students take a four- or five-course workload each semester. This means completing the 30-course requirement would usually take about eight semesters but could take as few as six semesters. 

Students may petition to graduate in seven semesters, but the requirements are daunting — they must have received As in two-thirds of their classes and taken at least 14 classes, including at least two at the 1000-level, in disciplines outside their concentration. They must also prove that they have a higher educational or employment offer “that would otherwise be lost or denied if they do not accelerate their graduation,” according to the accelerated graduation website. Obviously, these requirements are not placed on students choosing to graduate in the traditional eight semesters.

Perhaps most striking about the conditions for early graduation is the payment requirement. The website specifies that “students who are approved for accelerated graduation by the Committee on Academic Standing must still meet Brown’s eight-semester enrollment requirement by paying the tuition charge for the eighth semester.” In other words, you can jump through the necessary hoops to leave early, but you’ll still have to pay up.

To add insult to injury, students are not eligible for financial aid during the semesters they skip. Therefore, if a student on full financial aid needs to graduate early in order to avoid the opportunity cost of an eighth semester at Brown, they are required to pay full tuition for any semesters they are not on campus.

The University’s commitment to meeting 100 percent of students’ demonstrated financial need does mitigate the damage stringent early-graduation requirements could do. But plenty of students and their families still shoulder a significant financial burden to go here. This is especially common among middle-class students who do not receive a great deal of financial aid.

The payment requirement effectively punishes cash-strapped students whose financial situations require them to work. Taking an extra year to earn a degree of equal merit and hiring appeal is a luxury that some students cannot afford. If students want to put in the work to take more than four courses per semester for two or more semesters in order to graduate early and possibly start earning a salary earlier, why would Brown punish them for doing so?

Beyond the payment condition, one could claim that the eight-semester requirement prevents students from overcommitting. But this “in loco parentis” gesture interferes with the choice of when and how to complete one’s education — an intensely personal decision unique to each individual economic and life situation.

In keeping with its commitment to student autonomy, Brown should repeal its eight-semester requirement, or at least stop charging students who are approved for earlier graduation. The administration has no place dictating or punishing the timeline that students choose to follow in completing their educations.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s 126th editorial board: Emma Jerzyk ’17, Joseph Zappa ’17, Andrew Flax ’17 and Caroline Kelly ’17.