New tuition award aims to help high-achieving students

The university has decided to reward its high-achieving students the best way it knows how — by letting them do more work in multiple fields of study.

The Academic Achievement Award, introduced Sunday by the Office of Undergraduate Programs, allows students who have at least a 3.75 grade point average and are pursuing a double major or minor to take up to 20 units for the price of 18 units. Without the award, every unit more than 18 costs $1,299 .

“The goal is to make it easier for students with excellent academic records to graduate with multiple programs of study and still graduate in four years,” said Gene Bickers, vice provost of undergraduate programs. “If they are capable of doing 20 units in a semester, then we’ll make it possible without an extra cost.”

In addition to holding a 3.75 GPA at the time they apply for the award, students also must have completed 32 units, including at least 12 units at USC, and must be able to demonstrate that taking additional units would contribute toward earning multiple degrees.

Students must also have declared a double major, a double degree or any form of a major-minor combination by the time they submit their applications. The diversity of the fields of study does not matter.

Unlike the Renaissance Scholarship, another award for students who study diverse fields that is awarded to 10 graduating seniors annually, the achievement award is not a competition. If all criteria are met, a student is guaranteed an award every semester an application is submitted.

Most merit-based awards, such as Trustee and Presidential Scholarships, are awarded before students commit to USC. The new award aims to recognize the efforts of transfers, spring admits and students who did not receive a scholarship. Bickers did note that transfer students are substantially less likely to pursue multiple studies than freshmen admits.

Bickers acknowledged the difficulty of determining how many students are interested in multiple programs of study, but he expects about 200 students to receive the award for the fall semester.

Ray Gonzales, senior director of research and reporting for the Office of Academic Records and Registrar, said 775 out of 16,000 undergraduates are enrolled in more than 18 units currently.

The university sent an e-mail Sunday to the more than 2,500 students with 3.7 GPAs and above, announcing the new award. Of those, only about 1,000 students have already declared multiple programs of study. Bickers said within 24 hours, his office received about 50 applications.

Applications will be processed beginning in mid-April. Bickers said students who apply before April 30 would be notified of an award decision before the end of finals.

Students have until Aug. 20, the Friday before fall classes begin, to apply for the award. More students could become eligible for the award after this semester’s grades are finalized, Bickers said. A student’s eligibility is based on his GPA when he applies — if a student’s GPA falls below 3.75 after they are granted the award, he will still receive the funding.

Bickers said students who believe they meet or will meet the requirements should register for 19 or 20 units before receiving an award notification. Students have until the third week of classes before they are billed for their units.

To accommodate the new program, USC’s schools have agreed to accept slightly less money per unit to redistribute tuition revenue to the achievement award. While 30 percent of tuition funds financial aid, 70 percent typically goes back to the schools, depending on the number of units taken within each school. The latter percentage will now marginally decrease.

Scott Macklin, a junior majoring in astronautical engineering, said he had been considering completing a minor but had trouble fitting it into his schedule without taking more than 18 units.

“I really would have liked the opportunity to minor in something unrelated to engineering, and this may have been enough encouragement to do that,” he said.

Lucas Biging, a junior majoring in geography, said although he does not qualify he would have pursued an extra degree if he could have done it in less than five years.

“If I could swing a big course load of 20 units and manage a 3.75, then I don’t see any reason why not to pursue this opportunity,” he said. “A little tuition break makes sense to me.”

Kelsey Ezer, a freshman majoring in business administration who will qualify for the award at semester’s end, said taking five or six classes seems tough, but she would consider it if needed.

“It’s a good idea if it can get you to graduate in four years if you couldn’t otherwise while taking a minor,” she said.

Bickers said the idea is not to push students to do too much but to help the students who can still excel while completing multiple objectives.