Should students be forced to pay for exams?
By Nina Mendes
There’s a glare on the computer screen that’s caused by the fluorescent ceiling lights in the FGCU Testing and Assessment Center.
The journalism student sits among other anxious test-takers on the second floor of McTarnaghan Hall. Video cameras survey the room, adding to the tension, while the student frantically searches the screen for their final score on the grammar exam.
When the grade pops up the student lets out a sigh, acknowledging that he/she will have to pay another $30 to retake the exam in another two weeks.
Journalism majors and minors are required to pass a grammar course at FGCU. Students must pass a final exam (score 75% or higher) to receive a passing grade in the course.
Many students are disappointed to discover that they must pay a fee to take the test.
The first attempt totals to $35, and each attempt after that is a $30 charge. Each student has three attempts per semester to pass the exam.
According to the FGCU Budget Office FAQ’s, “The amount typically charged is an amount sufficient to cover all associated costs with providing a good and/or service as well as some provision for depreciation, capital funding, and reserves.”
The original fee for the grammar exam was $25 in 2013. It was raised to $30 due to increased cost in operations, according to Paolo Estrada, Manager of the Testing and Assessment Center.
Professor Lyn Millner founded FGCU’s journalism program in 2011 and currently teaches the grammar course offered at this university.
This semester 41% of students passed the exam on their first attempt. This means more than half of the class will pay a minimum of $65 to pass the course, and those who fail the second attempt must pay $95.
If, on the third attempt, a student does not pass the exam, they must retake the course.
“41% is a good pass rate for the first attempt, historically,” said Millner. “We have actually worked a lot on those numbers. I would like for everyone to pass the first time, but people come in with different skills and approaches to studying.”
Millner said introducing the at-home, online studying tool, Launchpad, increased students’ pass rates exponentially.
The program is personalized to each student and measures their strengths/weaknesses to test them effectively.
This is the first semester that grammar has a teacher’s assistant (TA).
Blake Bowen is the TA for Millner’s Wednesday morning class.
“I didn’t pass [the exam] the first time, because I don’t think I took it as seriously as I should have,” said Bowen. “I passed English, so I thought I’d be okay. You have to take it seriously, and you have to study for it, and that’s what I always tell people.”
Bowen also suggested that students give themselves ample time to prepare for the exam, rather than cramming the night before.
Millner agreed and said most students overthink because of last-minute studying.
“By the end of the semester, if they don’t pass after three chances, I’ve never had a student blame the test,” said Millner. “They only blame themselves.”
The grammar exam has not always been offered through the Testing and Assessment Center.
The journalism program is only one of two programs that takes advantage of the center on campus.
The class used to be a part of Writing for a Mass Audience, and the exam was administered through Canvas for free.
The fifty-minute time constraint did not give students enough time to complete the exam and some resorted to academic dishonesty.
“The main two things were cheating and [students] not having enough time,” said Millner. “The way [Judd] Cribbs and I worked it out was we give students three chances so it would reward the students who really studied and knocked it out.”
Cribbs is the coordinator for the journalism program and an assistant professor at FGCU.
Millner and the journalism program decided to separate the two classes in Fall 2011. Grammar then became a pre-requisite course for upper-level journalism classes.
Millner recognizes the grammar exam fee is a lot of money for students to have to pay, but listed examples of expenses required of students in other programs.
The journalism program does not require students to purchase their own audio/video recording equipment, and the textbooks are cheaper compared to other departments.
“Thirty dollars is a lot of money for a student, I recognize that,” said Millner. “If you look at another program, they spend a lot more money on textbooks and lab fees. I sympathize, but given all the factors, it seemed to be the best way to work it out.”
Senior Kyle Grosskopf is a student who has been personally affected by the grammar exam.
He is a communication major and was a journalism minor, however, he was forced to drop his minor because he scored just shy of 75% on his third attempt.
Grosskopf did not retake the course because it would result in late graduation and cost another semester of tuition.
“I’m disappointed I had to drop my minor, and it affected my graduation plan and course schedule,” said Grosskopf. “I enjoy writing and getting a chance to talk to different people, and journalism did that for me.”
The grammar exam began in 2007, and it would be difficult to measure student’s proficiency in the subject without it.
“To make sure we are doing right by our students, we have to report to the university different metrics,” said Millner. “We take a look at what students are writing, different tests, and projects that you do, and we see [where] students are struggling.”
Millner also said students should come to office hours and take advantage of the other resources to pass the exam quicker to save money.
The questions on the exam come from a bank that has multiple contributors, including Millner herself.
Because of the controversy the journalism program says it is open to student suggestions to improve the course.
“I’m open to better ways,” said Millner. “I would certainly be open to talking with the Testing Center about it. It is my impression that they can’t do that for whatever reason.”