Opinion: Summer semester should be better funded

Courtesy of Tribune News Service

The summer semester program is simultaneously one of the most valuable and most underused resources that the University of South Carolina has to offer. It is crucial to many students for a range of reasons. For some students, it’s an opportunity to catch up and retake a course they need in order to graduate. For others, it’s a way to take classes that conflicted with their schedule in the fall or spring. And, for the overachievers, it’s a chance to get ahead so that they have more time to concentrate on their major program and research in the regular school year. For a motivated student, the summer can be a highly productive time. Unfortunately, this time often goes to waste as financial obstacles prevent students from participating in the summer semester.

Off-campus housing prices can be outrageous enough for students in the regular school year, but for students taking summer courses it is even worse. Not only are the summer housing options sparse, they are also ridiculously expensive. The university only offers rooms in the two most expensive student apartment buildings on campus – 650 Lincoln and Park Place – instead of much more affordable residence hall alternatives.

Additionally, it can be difficult to plan financial aid for summer semester. Many scholarships have frustrating stipulations that make using them for summer classes a hassle. For instance, in order to use merit-based scholarships like Life and Palmetto Fellow, students have to take a full class load (12 credit hours or more). So for students who are only taking one or two courses, this creates a financial predicament. Do they take unnecessary classes in order to use their scholarships? Or do they stick to their part-time class schedule and pay thousands of dollars out of pocket? Neither of these choices are especially attractive.

To further complicate this scenario, these major scholarships are only designed for a regular four-year, eight-semester college career. Using it for the summer would count as one of those eight semesters, so if a student is still graduating on the regular schedule, they wouldn’t get the scholarship installment for their final semester. So it ends up as a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul; no money is saved, no progress is made.

While the University does offer financial aid for the summer semester, they don’t advertise any major scholarships equivalent to Life or Palmetto Fellow. Although FAFSA money is still available for needs-based assistance, it is based on the application from the preceding spring; it is likely that most of the money available has already been assigned by the time the summer semester rolls around. The likelihood of actually getting a summer semester funded is minimal.

Whenever possible, education should be made more attainable for those who need it. Any obstacle that affirms the sentiment that “those who fall behind get left behind” should be undone. Any technical or bureaucratic barrier that discourages or prevents students from getting ahead should be reformed. Ultimately, sure, this comes down to money, and it’s fair that the university wants to turn a profit. But the university’s desire to make a buck shouldn't force students to make the choice between education and financial solvency.

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