State senator proposes cap on course overload fee

Carrie Blazina

Update: This story has been corrected to show that the fee was announced in March, not April as was previously stated.

Students at Kent State taking more than 17 credit hours are currently paying $440 for each additional credit, but a state senator is taking steps to make sure the fee would never be that high again.

Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) introduced Ohio Senate Bill 359 in July after hearing about the fees Kent State and other Ohio universities were charging students.

“This practice of charging a fee for students who seek to take additional coursework is unfair, and adds unnecessarily to the growing, unsustainable, and very difficult to discharge tuition debt,” he wrote in an email Tuesday. “It serves as a disincentive for students to pursue a second major or to graduate early.”

When Kent State’s fee was first announced in March, many students expressed discontent by signing a petition on, which currently has about 4,000 signatures, and organizing a protest in Risman Plaza of about 400 to 500 people.

Sawyer said the bill would put a mandatory limit on what fees state universities could charge students and pay the universities “at the marginal cost of the last full-time tuition credit hour.” This means, Sawyer said, that the university would get additional funding from the state to make up for the money that would have come from the fee.

“Unlike other state-imposed fee caps, this cap keeps universities’ funding whole through a supplemental state capital appropriation,” Sawyer wrote.

Sawyer said the so-called “ambition penalty” being imposed at many universities is at odds with the state’s efforts to graduate students faster.

“It is unfortunate that these disincentives are intensifying at the same time that we are trying to incentivize on-time or early graduation and to reduce or to limit rising individual student loan debt,” Sawyer wrote.

Emily Vincent, the director of university media relations, said the university did not want to institute the fee, but funding realities left them no choice.

“We were one of only three institutions in the state that didn’t have a cap,” she said. “But based on the way state funding has decreased, we need to find other ways to generate revenue.”

Vincent said her office has not heard of any major student opposition since the initial petition and protest this spring.

“I think there was some students who were unhappy about it and were very vocal in the beginning, but since then I think it has died down,” she said.

Michael Crowley, a sophomore musical theater major, created the petition that he said was given to Kent State President Lester Lefton this summer. He said the students who were initially upset have made themselves heard already.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people still angry about it, but at this point we sent in the petition, and, I mean, they obviously know that we aren’t happy about it,” he said. “[But] I don’t think there was enough display of opinion to change it back, at least not at this point.”

Crowley said the fee has already affected his schedule by making his tuition about $1,400 higher.

“I am taking 20 [credit hours] right now, and my parents told me while they don’t like it … they weren’t going to not pay for a class just because they’d be charged extra,” Crowley said.

Kelsey Bergfeld, a legislative service commission fellow in Sawyer’s office, said in an email the bill has a fair amount of support.

“We have some bipartisan support for the bill on the Senate side but if it passes the Senate, it goes over to the House and committee hearings start all over again,” she said.

Bergfeld said the bill has not yet been assigned a committee or subject to public hearings. When the legislature reconvenes after the November elections, she said, the Senate Education Committee is expected to call the bill up for hearings.

“Passing bills takes time, but we hope we can put SB 359 on the fast track,” she said.

Contact Carrie Blazina at [email protected].