How is State saving students money?

Indiana State works to add value and trim costs for Sycamores.

(Editor’s note: This is the third of a series following up on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s recent article featuring Indiana State.)

With nine brothers and sisters, Ezra Fritz is on his own when it comes to paying for college.

Fritz, a 19-year-old from Terre Haute, is starting his first full-time semester at Indiana State this fall, but he’s not your typical first-year student.

He’s already familiar with the campus and is enrolling with 30 credit hours under his belt, thanks to the university’s Early Indiana State and College Challenge initiatives. Fritz was also able to save roughly $15,000 in tuition costs by taking Indiana State classes while he was still in high school.

Ezra Fritz, right, talks with Mara Johnson while taking college courses during the summer of 2017.

“I am one of 10 children in my family, so the College Challenge program has been a huge help for me financially because it’s a lot cheaper than the regular cost of taking classes at ISU,” Fritz said. “I can get these core classes out of the way at a lower cost and then I can focus on my major right when I get there.”

Across the university, faculty and staff are finding innovative ways to serve Indiana State students on tight budgets. As a whole, the campus is providing extra resources and support to Sycamores as they work to complete their degrees — for little to no extra cost.

As an added bonus, many of these initiatives are also furthering other campus goals, such as encouraging high school students to attend Indiana State and improving persistence and graduation rates.

Dual-credit classes

The Early Indiana State and College Challenge initiatives, for example, allow Indiana high school students to complete dozens of Indiana State courses for a fraction of the price.

For students like Fritz, the programs can dramatically reduce the cost of getting a four-year degree and can allow them to graduate more quickly. And because they’ve already completed many foundational studies classes before they arrive on campus, these students can devote their attention to their major courses or spend additional time on internships and research opportunities on campus.

They’re better prepared for university life and academics when they arrive, too.

“I’m going to be done sooner and in the long run, it’s going to be a heck of a lot cheaper for me,” Fritz said. “At the same time, it’s prepared me more for college because I’m used to the difficult workload — I’m ready for that. I’ve been on campus a lot, so I know what I’m doing. I know where I’m at.”

The university has partnered with high schools across the state to offer dual-credit courses since the 1980s, but recently focused its efforts on expanding the College Challenge program.

Since 2011, the university has more than doubled the number of College Challenge courses available and the number of high school students enrolled, according to Jill Blunk, director of the College Challenge program. Last year, more than 1,800 students were enrolled in dual-credit courses across the state, taking roughly 2,780 courses at just $25 a credit hour.

Building off the growth of the College Challenge program, Indiana State launched the Early Indiana State program through a partnership with the Vigo County School Corporation in the spring of 2015.

In addition to the College Challenge courses offered at their high school, Vigo County Early Indiana State students can take summer classes on campus for just $100 per credit hour.

The program is designed so that students can complete 30 credit hours, which is a full year’s worth of credits, before they graduate from high school. Through the Early Indiana State program, students pay just $2,000 in tuition for 30 credit hours, compared to the more than $17,000 they’d pay as traditional students.

These low-cost courses are also helping students who need it most: Between 25 and 30 percent of students taking College Challenge courses participate in the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. Those students get a full tuition waiver for any College Challenge courses offered at their high school.

“It’s given us a great opportunity to connect with those students specifically and give them more opportunities,” Blunk said. “Cost is not a factor and it’s not going to prohibit them from getting that college credit.”

Supplemental instruction

Working with faculty members, the Center for Student Success is also piloting several initiatives to provide additional support and instruction time in courses that have historically been challenging for some Sycamores, at no extra cost to the students.

Starting last fall, for example, the center began hosting optional study table sessions for students in Finance 108, a foundational studies course in personal financial management.

During the sessions, Sycamores had the chance to work with students who have already taken Finance 108 and received high marks in the class. These students, who are called supplemental instructors, are identified by faculty members and undergo training hosted by the center.

Although the Finance 108 initiative has only been in place for two semesters, the early results are promising, said Roberta Allen, director of the Center for Student Success.

In the spring semester, students who attended six or more study table sessions had an average GPA of 3.21, whereas students who didn’t attend any sessions averaged a 2.25 GPA.

Alongside faculty, the center is also experimenting with supplemental instruction in Math 115, which covers college algebra. Starting last year, students enrolled in Math 115 had an additional 50-minute class period added to their schedules at no extra cost.

Those mandatory extra class sessions are also led by trained, supplemental instructors who attend the Math 115 lectures each week and have a deep understanding of the content. The supplemental instructors also host open study hours, which allows students to drop in for extra help when they needed it.

“There’s a little bit less formality, less intimidation, less structure,” said Derrick Bowman, course coordinator for Math 115. “It’s another student they’re going to college with. They may be more willing to ask certain questions because they’re asking a student. We can break down some of that fear students have.”

Once again, the pilot program appears to be making an impact: the pass rate for Math 115 improved from roughly 55 percent to roughly 70 percent, and the percentage of students who dropped the course decreased from 19 percent to 13 percent. Students’ GPAs also improved, increasing from an average of 1.809 to an average of 2.22.

Based on the early successes in Finance 108 and Math 115, the Center for Student Success is working with faculty on similar initiatives for at least three additional courses this fall.

Open educational resources

A student uses “Introduction to Public Communication” textbook, which was developed as a open educational resource by State faculty to save students money.

The campus is also working to provide more affordable options to students when it comes to their textbooks and other required course materials by developing open educational resources.

Open educational resources are openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research and assessment, according to Melissa Gustafson, electronic resources librarian at Cunningham Memorial Library. They’re available to anyone, anywhere, for free.

These resources, which can range from textbooks to entire class modules, are created by subject-matter experts all over the world, including faculty at Indiana State.

“These are scholarly works that enhance the educational experience and are just as valuable as resources you would find in a traditional textbook,” Gustafson said.

Communication 101, for example, is helping students save $140 with its digital textbook, which was developed by Indiana State faculty and staff. Collectively, that’s a savings of roughly $217,000 per semester.

“So far, we’ve seen that, overall, students have had positive experiences and have saved money in the long run,” Gustafson said. “We want to help our students be able to access the most resources they can without breaking the bank. This is one way we can make education more equitable. We would love to see this become part of business as usual at Indiana State.”

Read the article by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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