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Some students have decided to take online summer courses at other universities because of their cheaper price points.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Frustrated with the high cost of Penn summer courses, many students have instead enrolled in summer courses offered by other institutions.

Although summer courses witnessed a 70% increase in enrollment this year in comparison to  May 2019, some students were deterred from taking Penn's summer courses due to the high cost per course credit and a lack of provided summer financial aid, compared to aid given during the academic year. 

In addition to a general fee of $329 for each undergraduate summer session, the College of Arts and Sciences charges $4,566 per course credit. The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences charges $4,936 per course credit, and the Wharton School charges $5,550 per course credit. The School of Nursing charges $6,784 for each course credit.

Because summer classes are taught remotely and not in person this year, students said they chose to take summer courses at other institutions which charged less for transferable course credits, in comparison to courses that Penn is offering.

Rising College and Wharton sophomore Yu-Chia Cheng said she is taking summer physics and anthropology courses at Rice University and plans to receive credit at Penn for them. She estimates that she saved $9,000 by taking the courses at Rice instead of at Penn. Rice charges $500 per credit for the first 6 credits taken by a visiting undergraduate student — one-ninth of the price of enrolling in a Penn summer course.

Penn students taking classes at other institutions can apply for “credit away” to receive University course credit using the external course approval tool XCAT. While Penn students enrolled in the College can apply for “credit away” to fill major and general distribution requirements, Engineering students taking online courses at other institutions cannot. Wharton and Nursing students can use “credit away” to fill electives, but not for required business and nursing courses, respectively.

Rising College sophomore Julia Lottman, who is taking two chemistry classes at SUNY Binghamton, felt that Penn charged an unreasonable amount for chemistry labs that would be taught online this summer because of the coronavirus. Binghamton charges $295 per credit hour for New York state residents.

“I was supposed to take two labs [this summer at Penn], and I'm not getting my money's worth of a lab if I took it online,” Lottman said.

Similar to Lottman, rising College junior Isabela Lamadrid is taking two physics courses at SUNY Albany this summer. She remains satisfied with her decision to pursue the 'cheapest option,' and said the virtual courses she is taking are as academically rigorous as Penn’s courses.

Several students expressed concern about the accessibility of Penn’s summer courses to low-income students, or students whose summer jobs or internships were canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I find it frustrating that recently Penn has been like, 'you should fill your summer by taking a class,' but then charging a price that a significant amount of students can’t afford,” rising College junior Ivy Hunt said. Hunt is enrolled in an oceanography course at Hunter College, which will be used to fulfill the Physical World sector requirement in the College.

Lamadrid said she felt Penn should have been more clear about financial aid options for its summer courses. 

The University's summer financial aid package primarily includes loans with limited grants available, according to the 2020 summer financial aid application. In order to be eligible to receive financial aid for summer courses, students must take at least two summer courses.

“To avoid taking on additional debt, Student Registration and Financial Services (SRFS) recommends that you attend summer classes only if absolutely necessary,” the application states. “Penn’s grant-based policy does not apply to summer financial aid.”

Other students said they chose to take courses at a different institution to explore academic interests without worrying about their cumulative GPA. Penn’s “Credit Away” policy does not allow grades from courses taken at other institutions to factor into a student’s GPA. 

“I wanted to learn code without a lot of stress on my GPA because I know that coding classes can be really hard at Penn. I mainly wanted to gain a skill at a fraction of the price,” rising College sophomore Caleb Shack said. Shack is taking a computer science course at Montgomery County Community College this summer. 

Lottman said summer classes can be beneficial for students that struggle in a particular subject area, as they have more time to dedicate to studying and comprehension. 

“Summer classes are very valuable, especially because it's nice to just have to focus on one or two classes,” Lottman said. 

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