Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Will Students Take Advantage Of IU's Summer Tuition Cuts?

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Sophomore Ricky Rojas (right, with pool cue) lines up a shot during a game with friends at IUPUI's Student Center. Rojas, 20, is not sure if he would take summer courses, even if tuition were discounted.

Politically, the benefits of cutting summer tuition for Indiana University administrators are clear: the move quiets criticism from state lawmakers over rising costs of attendance.

Financially, though, the benefits of a 25 percent cut to summer school tuition for in-state undergraduates are harder to calculate.

If university officials’ projection of a 10 percent bump in summer semester attendance in 2012 proves correct, still under half of all IU students systemwide would be enrolled in summer courses. Statewide, that would total more than $11 million in student savings (and foregone university revenue).

If calculating the financial benefits sounds complicated for the university, think of how complicated the calculation could be for students.

Take IUPUI sophomore Ricky Rojas: The 20-year-old Noblesville native is enlisted in the Indiana National Guard. Still, even with the military’s pay and benefits and $5,000 in student loans, Rojas says he has to work a second full-time summer job to pay for school.

That, Rojas says, makes summer school a tough sell for students.

“That’s the reason that I didn’t go to summer school this year — it was more expensive for me to go to summer school than to work,” Rojas says.

Government statistics suggest he’s not alone. The most recent federal numbers on student employment available, from 2003-04, show 78 percent of undergraduates work while they’re in college.

“Me and many of my friends, we work throughout the entire summer — 40 hours a week — to pay for school during the actual semester, because we don’t have a way to work, and go to school, and have our own lives during the semester,” Rojas adds.

At the press conference where he announced the cuts, StateImpact asked IU president Michael McRobbie why officials decided to apply the tuition cuts only to summer courses:

StateImpact question: “Isn’t incentivizing students to take classes that would then save them money very different from just saving them money? Why don’t you just cut the cost out of year round courses as opposed to saying, ‘Well, if you take this, we’ll incentivize you to take this with these cuts, but only then will it save you money’?”

McRobbie response: “What our goal is here is to incentivize students to take classes where we have capacity, and right now, we have capacity over summer. This is a problem that universities have wrestled with for years — how to utilize those very valuable facilities that they have and to align the academic calendar better with the needs of the 21st century. So that’s what we’re doing, we’re taking advantage of the capacity we have over summer to hopefully attract many more students to all of our campuses.”

Rojas figures a 25 percent cut in tuition might attract him to summer school, though he’s not sure he’d take a full load of classes.

For him, tuition is not the biggest cost of attending school. Living expenses, Rojas says, take up much more of his budget — maybe $6,000 per semester, while his tuition and fees total roughly $4,500 per semester.

The pressure to pay the rising cost of a college degree, says IUPUI sophomore Roger Bishop, can be overwhelming.

“I think in large part, students are expected to get financial aid, so any students that can’t obtain that financial aid, it just seems like an insurmountable goal to try to make that payment every month or every semester,” Bishop, 21, says.

Indiana University says nearly two-thirds of its students — and about 75 percent of in-state students — receive some form of financial aid.


  • smeej

    So…why couldn’t Ricky, for example, go to school during the spring and summer semesters and work full-time the entire fall semester? Wouldn’t that be the same economic boost for him? He also wouldn’t have to compete with nearly as many other students (because obviously most students aren’t figuring that out) and might have a shot at better jobs in his career field.

    What makes him or anyone else think the summer is the only semester they could work full-time?

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Hmmmmm… Interesting. Good point, smeej.

      But just to play devils’ advocate — perhaps it’s not as much a question of ‘why couldn’t he…?’ as it is a question of ‘is it worth it?’ Take a look at our topics page and work out some of the math:

      Does it make it worth it for Ricky to throw all his summer plans up in the air when we’re talking about the difference between an $8,000 year (2 semesters) versus a $7,000 year (1 regular + 1 summer)?

      • smeej

        I love math. I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at the math, shall we?

        From the numbers you cited, at IUPUI:

        - A regular 15-credit semester costs $3,951.16
        - A discounted 15-credit summer semester costs $2,963.30
        - So a regular 30-credit academic year costs $7,902.32
        - And the modified 30-credit academic year I’m proposing costs $6,914.46

        - Over four years, a regular 120-credit BA costs $31,609.28
        - Over four years, my modified 120-credit BA costs $27,657.84

        - Over four years, going to school in the spring and summer and working in the fall SAVES Ricky $3,951.44

        - $3,951.44, you might notice, is exactly $0.28 more than the cost of a regular semester. So just by switching to an alternative schedule, Ricky now gets 8 semesters for the price of 7.

        But that’s not all. If we look at IUPUI’s academic calendar (, Ricky also has the opportunity to EARN a lot more money with this plan.

        - Finals for spring classes in 2012 are over on 05/06/2012.
        - Fall classes in 2012 begin on 08/20/2012.
        - This gives Ricky 15 weeks to work during his break.
        - Taking as an estimate that he makes $10 per hour, 40 hours per week, he can earn $6,000 over the summer break.


        - The second summer term in 2012 ends on 08/06/2012.
        - Spring classes in 2013 begin on 01/07/2013.
        - This gives Ricky 22 weeks to work during his break.
        - Even if he were earning the same $10 per hour, 40 hours per week, he would earn $8,800, fully $2,800 more over the fall break which, as it happens, is almost the cost of a summer semester.

        But if you take into account that there is more competition for summer jobs than there is for fall jobs (because most people aren’t as practical and logical as Ricky), and therefore that he has a better change at a slightly better-paying job – say, $12 per hour – he would make $10,560 during his break, a whopping $4,560 more money per year.

        So just by switching his academic schedule from the traditional “fall/spring” to “spring/summer”, not only does Ricky save $3,951.44 in tuition over his four-year academic career, but he also earns $18,240 more during his breaks.

        So the real question is whether the minor inconvenience of taking classes during the spring and summer – or “throwing all his summer plans up in the air”, as you called it – instead of the fall and spring is worth an additional $22,191.44.

        According to IUPUI (, the average amount of student loan debt for a student graduating in the 2010-2011 school year is $25,267.

        If every student were as practical as Ricky, that number could very easily be $3,075.56, and with the connections he’s built at his better “break jobs”, he shouldn’t have any trouble paying that off with his income from his new job within at most a couple of years.

        So yes. I’d very conclusively say it’s worth it. That’s why I love math.

        • StateImpact Indiana


          (If Ricky ever finds this, it might be worth noting that we’re borrowing your name for a hypothetical situation!!)

          The savings are real… but I see the real question to be “will 8 semesters for the price of 7″ going forward be enough to sway enough students to drive real aggregate savings at the end of the day?? Do you think there will be ENOUGH students who are as “practical and logical” and proactive as Ricky?

          I asked this question of President McRobbie at the presser, and I’d lieke to ask it to you now, smeej… Isn’t there a real difference between (A) offering an incentive to pursue a course that could save a student money, and (B) saving them money — through scholarships, tuition breaks, etc.???

          • smeej

            Drive real aggregate savings for whom? For the students? It certainly will for those who chose it. The statement, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” seems relevant here. I think I’ve put together a pretty simple plan that makes a huge difference to Ricky’s bottom line without terribly inconveniencing him. He’s still going to school two semesters a year and working full-time between them, just on an alternative calendar, and between the extra income and the savings on tuition, it’s a $22,191.44 difference over his four-year career. That to me is “real aggregate savings”.

            Right now, our culture seems to have a few deeply-ingrained assumptions about college, all of which I think need to be questioned:

            1) A college degree makes someone qualitatively better at entry-level jobs than someone without one.
            2) A college degree is best earned by a young person between the ages of 17-24.
            3) A college degree is worth going into five figures of debt to receive.
            4) A college degree is best earned studying full-time for four years, only doing coursework between August and May.

            It’s pretty obvious to me that our college educational system is broken. We have tens or hundreds of thousands of young people with degrees, tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and no jobs.

            It’s time we start questioning our assumptions.

            I think IU is giving students incentive to do just that, specifically #3 and #4. Like with anything, you get out of it what you put into it. If you really want to get an affordable college degree and maximize your educational opportunity, IU has just given you a new option for doing that.

            The president of Boston College once explained that the reason they raise tuition from $42,000 to $46,000 is because the families who can write a check for $42,000 aren’t going to have any additional trouble writing one for $46,000. That gives the school an additional $4,000 to offer other students in aid. It’s essentially a redistribution of wealth. Since 87% of Boston College financial aid is grants and scholarships (, it seems to be working for them. The average indebtedness of a BC grad is LOWER than the average indebtedness of an IUPUI grad by about $10,000, and that includes the cost of living difference between Boston and Indianapolis.

            This is somewhat similar. There are going to be a significant portion of students who want to party through 6 years of traditional semesters. IU is going to allow those students to pay tons of money for it. That money will enable them to offer discounts like this 25% off summer courses for students who want to work hard and maximize their educational opportunities. Those students can graduate with minimal loans if they try.

            IU can give students the opportunity to save money, but they can’t force them to save it. But it’s not the school’s job to make your decisions for you. It’s their job to give you options. Your job is to think through them and make your decisions.

          • StateImpact Indiana

            Thanks for your thoroughness! Out of curiosity, did you go to college / are you in college / where did you graduate?

          • smeej

            I graduated with a BA from Boston College through an endowed scholarship based on high school performance and an MA from the University of Notre Dame through a fully funded service-learning program. I’m am currently enrolled in a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management program at IUPUI through funding provided by my employer (discounted summer tuition doesn’t apply to graduate coursework unfortunately!).

            Obtaining education for free or nearly free is a bit of a hobby of mine, and I’m completely convinced anyone who really WANTS to find a way to get a degree without going tens of thousands of dollars into debt can do it. They’ll probably have to be creative. They’ll probably have to work hard. But those are the people who belong in college in the first place.

          • StateImpact Indiana

            Free, huh? As in *debt-free? How has that been working for you so far? Has it been a rewarding ‘hobby’?

            Are there any lessons people could learn from you? Or do you recognize what sounds like your extraordinary ambition to not take on debt — it’s not an easy task for just anyone!

          • smeej

            Yes, free as in debt-free. No matter where you’re living or what you’re doing, you’re going to have to pay to live somewhere, to eat, and for transportation. I try to minimize those expenses too (and don’t have any debt except for a car I had to buy on short notice because I took a job that required one when I’d been car-free for four years), but I don’t think of them as part of the expense of going to school. They’re just life expenses.

            I think I’d have three points of advice:

            1) When you’re facing a decision, first try to list as many assumptions as you can think of that are influencing the decision (like the list of four common assumptions people make about college above). Once you have your list, question every single one to see which ones are true.

            2) Really research your options and be willing to think creatively outside the box. Once you’ve questioned your assumptions, you might find that a relatively simple change like going to school in the spring and summer and working in the fall could save you over $22,000 in college debt.

            3) Know what your priorities are and be willing to sacrifice the things that don’t mean nearly as much to you. I can’t tell you what your priorities should be. For me, not taking on debt to pay for my education was hugely important, and I’d have been willing to go to my backup school if I couldn’t figure out funding at a higher choice. If your priority is to go to a specific school because of certain opportunities it provides you (and you’ve already questioned your assumption that you can’t get those same opportunities anywhere else and researched creative options to still get what you want), taking on debt might be worth it to you. But when you CHOOSE something, remind yourself that you’re choosing NOT to have other things. You’re CHOOSING to have a degree from this particular school, which means you’re CHOOSING not to be debt-free after college. That’s okay. It’s your choice. You made it based on what matters most to you, and that may be different from what matters most to other people. Just take responsibility for it like an adult and don’t complain when you decide you really don’t like going without the things you chose to sacrifice for your choice. No one made that choice but you, and you’re responsible for questioning your assumptions and doing your research to make the choice well.

            I’m a firm believer that you can have ANYTHING you want, but you CANNOT have EVERYTHING you want. Choose what you want, sacrifice what matters less, and take responsibility for that choice.

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