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Staying extra year costs UNC seniors

Lyle Baumgarten has worked for five years to earn a degree in biomedical engineering and biology with a minor in physics.

But when he graduates, only one of those areas of study will be recognized on his diploma.

Baumgarten is one of 179 students on campus who will face this consequence upon graduation this year for failing to graduate within eight semesters.

UNC-CH is the only UNC-system school that requires students to graduate in four years — if they don’t, their minor or second major will be dropped from their transcript and diploma upon graduation.

Baumgarten said he feels the policy is unfair.

“I think it’s annoying because I did the work for (my double major and minor), so it should go on my transcript,” he said.

In addition, students who have taken more than 140 credit hours must pay a fee that is equal to 50 percent of the student’s tuition. The surcharge applies to every credit hour taken after the 140 limit is reached.

Lee May, associate dean of academic advising, said the punishment policy stems from a 2007 curriculum change that allowed students to complete three areas of study.

“Prior to 2007, students didn’t have the option of doing three areas of study,” May said.

“(There was a proposal) for students to be able to have two majors and one minor, or one major and two minors.

“And the Faculty Council said, ‘Well, OK … but if we’re going to allow them to do that, they have to do it in four years.’”

Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system, said there is no systemwide semester cap, and that UNC-CH is the only system campus with such a limit.

UNC’s four-year graduation rate was 76 percent in 2010, the highest in the UNC system.

May said students can petition to remain on campus for a ninth semester in order to complete degree requirements, but those students will only have one major represented on their transcript and diploma.

She said students can still acknowledge that they did the course work for any additional areas of study on a resume.

Chris Derickson, assistant provost and University registrar, said students who remain on campus after eight semesters might also be subject to a statewide tuition surcharge.

But May said it is uncommon for ninth-semester students to be subject to the fee.

“It would be rare for a student to have more than 140 (hours),” she said.

“If you have to stay for an extra semester, you’re probably close to 120, but not there yet.”

May said students who appeal for an additional semester are usually granted the opportunity, but some circumstances don’t justify remaining on campus.

She said students who want to take additional classes to increase their GPA or complete medical school prerequisites, but have completed their degree requirements, are not approved for an additional semester.

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Academic advisers also encourage students to explore other options for completing their degree if it will take longer than eight semesters, May said.

“If a student can finish in summer school … or if they can take a Carolina course online or transfer in their final credits, we might encourage them to do that rather than to come back to the University and take a full course load and keep our students who are here and need to graduate from getting those courses,” she said.

One reason for the eight-semester limit on campus is to make room for incoming students, May said.

“We have over 30,000 students applying to go to UNC every year,” she said.

“And unless students progress in a four-year school plan, there’s no classes for other people to take once they come to Carolina.”

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