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Ball State University said Tuesday it will offer $500 scholarships to students on track to graduate within four years and take other steps that could save some students as much as $10,000 over the course of their college careers -- making it Indiana's latest state school to respond to legislative calls to reduce student costs.
In addition to the scholarships, the Muncie-based school said it also will reduce the number of credit hours needed to graduate, cut summer tuition by an average of 18 percent and encourage students to take online courses.
Ball State's move follows similar actions taken by other state-supported schools. Indiana University and the University of Southern Indiana both reduced summer tuition, and Indiana State University reduced a planned tuition increase for undergraduate in-state students from 3.5 percent to 1.5 percent.
Legislators have criticized recent tuition increases at state-supported schools, even while cutting their state funding amid the economic downturn and slow recovery. Two decades ago, half of Indiana University's budget came from the state. Now it's at 20 percent, a rate shared by Purdue University. About 33 percent of Ball State's budget comes from the state.
Ball State spokeswoman Joan Todd readily acknowledged that the moves announced Tuesday were made in response to political pressure.
"We want to respond to what the Legislature has challenged us to do. We think these steps are very creative," she said.
State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who chairs the Senate's appropriations committee, said he thinks the steps Ball State is taking will particularly help students who are paying full tuition. He said he doesn't know if the school would have acted without the legislative pressure, but he believes it caused the other schools to act.
"I'm glad they're all reacting and trying to do what we asked them to do," he said.
IU spokesman Mark Land said the tuition cut there wasn't a direct response to the Legislature, but he acknowledged there was a "heightened awareness" among higher education officials that they needed to do more to reduce the cost of attending the school and to make it easier to graduate within four years.
Diann McKee, ISU's treasurer, downplayed the role legislative pressure played in the Terre Haute school's decision to roll back a tuition increase in October. She said the economic climate and the fact that many ISU students are first-generation college students from families that aren't affluent played a large role.
"I believe both the Legislature and the commission for higher education have made it clear that we believe affordability is a very important issue. And to the degree our colleges are willing to look at ways to decrease the cost for students and families, we think that's very important," said Indiana higher education commissioner Teresa Lubbers.
The four steps outlined by Ball State include: offering a $500 scholarship during the last semester to students in line to graduate within four years; reducing the number of credit hours required of an undergraduate from 126 to 120, eliminating the need for overloaded course schedules; allowing students who take 12 credit hours to take an additional six online or on campus at no additional charge, potentially saving up to $3,000 a year; and reducing summer tuition by an average of 18 percent. Ball State said students who take courses each summer could graduate sooner and save as much as $400 each summer.
"We built into this a financial incentive for most students ... to be able to complete their degree within four years," Todd said.
Ball State said it is seeking to maximize the number of undergraduate degrees that can be completed in eight 15-credit-hour semesters. The school said in a statement that students who take advantage of all options could save as much as $10,000 over four years.
"The focus now is on the student, and how do we help the student out," Kenley said.