Starting in fall 2019, Longwood will return to charging a flat rate of “tuition by the semester,” instead of the charging-per-credit approach that has been in place since 2007. The rate is based on a full-time 15-hour course load and applies to students taking between 12 and 18 credit hours. Students registered for fewer than 12 credit hours will continue to be charged on a per-hour basis.

Making the Switch

What is banded tuition?

Banded tuition is the payment model Longwood had for much of its history, and is also known as “tuition by the semester.” Here’s how it works:

  • Students who take between 12-18 credit hours in a semester will pay a flat tuition rate that’s based on a full-time load of 15 credit hours.
  • Students taking fewer than 12 credit hours will pay a per-credit-hour rate.
  • Students taking more than 18 credit hours will pay the flat rate, plus a per-credit-hour rate for additional hours.

Why is Longwood returning to a tuition-by-the-semester model?

Longwood has been contemplating and working toward this change for several years now, as a way to boost the likelihood students will graduate, and graduate on time. The vast majority of institutions like Longwood operate in this fashion. In Virginia, 85 percent of all 4-year colleges use this model. So do three-quarters of our fellow public institutions, including U.Va., William & Mary, Mary Washington, James Madison and Virginia Tech.

Across higher education, tuition-by-the-semester has become a national best practice, because the data show it makes students much more likely to graduate overall, and to graduate faster. Though it gets relatively little attention, time-to-graduation is a hugely important factor in the overall cost of college. The additional expense and debt comes not just from an additional year paying housing, food and living expenses – but also from the lost income they could be already earning in the workforce.

The group Complete College America has identified this kind of tuition model as a key tool for encouraging students to take 15 credits per semester, which translates powerfully into higher student success and graduation rates, and lower debt. The non-profit advocacy group has worked with hundreds of institutions including the University of Oklahoma system and Indiana University to move toward so-called “banded tuition” as Longwood is again doing. (Info from Complete College America on the benefits of banded tuition for students can be found here).

In short, the change gives students an incentive (but does not require them) to take 15 credits per semester and 30 credits per year. Since most degree programs require 120 credits, that’s what it takes to get through in four years.

How is banded tuition calculated? 

The cost is based on the per-credit cost of a normal 15-credit schedule, the midpoint of the band.

Isn’t it a good idea for students to ease into college by taking 12 credits?

A common myth. It’s actually more beneficial to students if they come into college and take a normal full course load of 15 credits. Studies show that freshmen students who take a full 15-hour course load have significantly higher GPAs, retain better, and maintain both a full-time schedule and higher GPA throughout their college career. That’s absolutely true at Longwood, too. Even comparing students to others with comparable incoming SAT scores and high school GPAs, students actually do better – much better – taking 15 credits instead of 12.

On the other hand, students who try to “ease into college” with a limited freshman year schedule tend to have lower GPAs and rarely increase to a full-time schedule, extending their student loans, fees, and other financial obligations.

How does taking 15 credits per semester affect time-to-graduation at Longwood?

Very powerfully. Among the Longwood freshmen who arrived in 2012 and took 15 credits both semesters their first year, 68 percent graduated within four years and 84 percent graduated within five. Among those in that group who took fewer than 15 credits both freshman semesters, less than half graduated in four years and 65 percent had graduated within five. Put differently, that adds up to several hundred additional “college years” in which students are still in school, often building up debt, and not in the workforce.

You might think the difference is simply that better students have been more likely to take more credits. But it turns out course load is a strong predictor of on-time graduation across the board. Among our strongest incoming students (HS GPA 3.75 and higher), 87 percent who take 15 credits both semesters freshman year graduate in four years, compared to 52 percent who do so neither semester. The difference is even more pronounced for students with lowest HS GPAs (under 2.75). In that group, 57 percent graduate within four years if they take the full 30-credit load as freshmen. If they take anything less, only about one student in 20 in that group graduates within four years.

What about grades and academic performance? Isn’t it harder to take 15 credits than 12?

Surprisingly, it turns out students do better academically when taking 15 credits instead of 12. Studies show that freshman students who take a full 15-hour course load have significantly higher GPAs, retain better, and maintain both a fulltime schedule and higher GPA throughout their careers. (For example, see and

Longwood data show the same. Students who took 15 or more credit hours used to have comparable GPAs to those who took fewer. But in recent years, that trend has changed substantially: those who take the higher credit load have GPAs that are on average .36 (on the 4.0 scale) better than those who take fewer.

Is that just because students who are better prepared academically are more likely to want to take 15 credits in the first place?

You might think so, but this is where the data on our students are perhaps most striking. Take a look at this chart below that shows how students in the same range of SAT scores fared at Longwood in terms of GPA. Put simply, for students of roughly equal academic ability, simply taking 15 credit hours per semester instead of 12 produced much higher GPAs – on average more than half a point on the 4.0 scale.

SAT Bands GPA, fewer than 12 hours in at least one semester GPA, 15 or more hours in both semesters
Overall 2.44 2.91
Below 900 2.08 2.79
900-999 2.19 2.77
1000-1099 2.61 2.92
1100-1199 2.54 3.07
1200-1299 2.55 3.15
1300-1399 2.81 3.44
1400 and higher N/A 3.78
No SAT 2.27 2.79

Won’t this make college more expensive for some LU students?

Students used to taking 12 credits in a semester will see the cost of that same schedule rise, though students taking a normal load or up to 18 credits will see cost savings. We encourage students who were planning to take 12 credits to add a class to fill out their schedule to both stay on track to graduate in four years and maximize the return on their college investment. We’re returning to Longwood’s historical practice of banded tuition based on our data that shows us students will experience not only significant cost savings if they graduate on-time, but also better academic performance.

Are there other reasons Longwood is making this change?

The main reasons are to help move more students toward graduation and get them there – and into the workforce or a graduate program – sooner and more successfully, aligning Longwood with other primarily residential Virginia universities and national best practices. The change will also simplify billing, and make planning more predictable, both for families and the universities.

There are also real educational benefits, which are an important reason why residential institutions with a liberal arts core like Longwood tend to use this model. When there’s no additional charge for a 15-credit course-load compared to 12, students are encouraged to try something new and different – for example a business student taking that music appreciation course they’ve always wanted, or an arts student taking an accounting course that may help in their career. Students often find that kind of academic exploration one of the most consequential parts of their college experience, and we want to encourage it.

Additionally, the banded tuition model has been shown to help the many students who change majors during their undergraduate careers by not charging them to take additional classes to catch up.

Implementing the Switch

When will it be implemented?

Billing changes will be effective starting fall semester 2019.

How does this affect financial aid?

There is relatively little impact on financial aid. Several forms of financial aid are tied to enrollment, with some actually requiring 30 credits per year, which banded tuition encourages. Federal and state financial aid will stay the same for full-time students.

One benefit of banded tuition is that students who want to enroll in 18 credits will no longer need to request additional funds for that extra class. If you are interested in taking more than 18 credit hours or an intersession class, we encourage you to work with financial aid to determine if you’re eligible for additional funds.

What is covered by banded tuition?

Yearly tuition and mandatory fees are covered in banded tuition rates. As before, these other costs are separate

  • Housing and dining
  • Books
  • Auxiliary fees
  • Course-specific fees.

I’m a returning student and have already registered for 12 credits next fall? What are my options?

In order to stay on track to graduate on time, we encourage you to register for an additional class to reach the typical schedule of 15 credit hours. You can add a class by logging into MyLongwood. If you need additional help, you can contact the registrar’s office at or by calling 434-395-2580. If you’d like to stay with a schedule of only 12 credit hours, you can do so, though the tuition rate is based on the normal schedule of 15.

I planned on taking a summer or intersession course to stay on track to graduate in 4 years. How does this affect me?

Summer and intersession courses will be charged by the credit hour.

I am a liberal studies major who is required to take a 12-hour class this semester. How will this affect me?

There are a few degree tracks—notably liberal studies but also therapeutic recreation and others—that require students take one 12-credit course in one of their semesters, instead of the normal load of 15 credit hours. If you fall into this category, you’ll be billed per credit for those 12 credits that semester. If you choose to take an additional class, you’ll also be billed per credit for that additional class.

Does this affect graduate students?

Graduate students are still charged by the credit hour.

I’m an undergraduate student taking a graduate course. Is that course included in the banded tuition rate?

No. The banded rate only applies to undergraduate courses. An undergraduate taking a 3-credit graduate course will be billed separately for those credits.