USC should amend credit policy in light of the coronavirus

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Considering the exorbitant cost of the 2020-21 school year — $59,260 — and the crushing economic impact of the coronavirus, USC should change its transfer credit policy to allow Trojans to take courses at a community college during the year so they can graduate on time without being forced into a financial bind.

Half of U.S. college students have reported that they can no longer afford their college tuition in the face of the pandemic. The unemployment rate in the United States is the worst it has been in nearly 100 years. Many people have likely used their savings, which may have otherwise gone to tuition, to cover emergency expenses in the wake of the pandemic. Alternatively, parents using an investment portfolio to pay for college may have seen those accounts decimated as the stock market collapsed almost overnight. The bottom line is that paying for college in the coming years is going to be tough for many families. 

Currently, USC students can only take coursework outside of the University during the summer. Any credits taken in the fall, winter or spring are rejected. Additionally, all general education courses must be taken at the University, limiting options for students looking to complete a four-year college education amid financial turbulence. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, this policy is categorically unfair and exploitative. If students cannot afford fall or spring tuition, then they may have no option but to take the semester off — or worse, drop out. Taking courses in the summer cannot make up for this lost time. Thus, many students must delay or deny the completion of their education, which in turn impacts their careers and potential income. 

Community college is an incredibly attractive option right now to many students for many reasons. One can live at home (read: reduce risk by not living in a shared apartment/dorm), avoid travel and — most importantly — pay a reduced cost for classes. 

Take, for instance, a student who decides to take courses in the fall and spring at Santa Monica College rather than at USC: According to the articulation agreement between USC and SMC, the community college offers dozens of courses that are equivalent to USC courses. 

That being said, the cost of tuition for SMC students is significantly lower compared to the University’s. For California residents, SMC costs $46 per unit — a 16-unit semester comes out to $768. For out-of-state students, the cost is a little bit higher, with a $300 nonresident fee added to each unit — still, though, a 16-unit semester comes out to only $5,568. USC, on the other hand, costs $1,995 per unit, a whopping price that is insidiously “subject to change without notice.”  

Or, USC can try a dual-enrollment program, like the University of Oregon’s. Allowing students to take classes at a community college and the University simultaneously could be a good compromise. 

Transfer students can count up to 64 units of schoolwork, or four 16-unit semesters, toward their USC degree. Their degrees have just as much integrity as anyone else’s. If transfer students can take community college courses in the fall and spring and still be credited, this begs the question of why matriculated Trojans can’t do the same. 

Six different higher education groups — the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of American Universities, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the American Council of Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities — have called on institutions like USC to be flexible with credit policies in this unprecedented crisis. They argue that if universities seek to serve their communities and the public good — which should be an unequivocal given — they must be willing to experiment with and commit to novel practices. For USC, waiving the undergraduate transfer credit policy for the upcoming school year would be an excellent start.

Students whose families have been financially devastated by the pandemic should not have to bring their education to a screeching halt if they cannot afford USC tuition. If USC cares for its students beyond simply seeking to empty their pockets, the University will put its money where its mouth is and implement policies that allow all Trojans to thrive.