Before this semester commenced, hundreds of students were notified that if payment plans were not set up for their due balances, they would be unenrolled from all classes, and effectively kicked out of school.
Panic ensued for many upon hearing this declaration, whether over phone, email, or letter. Junior biochemistry major Connor Parker was one student of over five hundred that received this news. Parker was informed by his track and field coach earlier in the semester that there was a stop on his account that needed to be removed eventually.
“I don't need to worry about any of that,” said Parker on his reaction to the news. “And then, like, two days later, I got another email from him being like, you need to get this done, or you're getting kicked off campus and being unenrolled, and I was like, well, that's news to me.”
The same message was given to all students in Parker’s situation. Pay the balance due on your account, or face the consequences. However, according to Dr. Chrystal Porter, Vice President of Enrollment and Marketing, only those with due balances of $5,000 dollars or more were faced with this potential outcome, and students were made aware of the situation months in advance.
According to Parker, he had not been privy to these consequences prior to his coach telling him. Therefore, he was pressed to make moves on deadline day. “I remember getting some emails, like in October and November maybe, but like, that has no bearing on December in January, you know what I mean? Like, I'm not gonna remember an email I got two months prior about setting up a payment plan,” said Parker.
Parker said he called his father, and they worked together to contact the school, eventually clearing the stop. “They actually had gotten back to my father before they even got back to me,” said Parker. “I was finding out kind of through the grapevine that I was fine, but it was kind of a scary day.”
Paying tuition is an inevitable part of attending an institution for most students. However, according to Porter, a problem that has plagued university finances in past years has been a comfortability and accepted culture of late payments in the student community. When it came down to the final day to pay, Porter said on average there were around five hundred students per semester that had not paid a portion of their bill or even discussed plans of payment with the school.
Therefore, the goal this semester was to expedite payments and make sure students had payment plans in place before starting back up. “I know, on the surface, it feels very aggressive,” said Porter, “but it was more to have the conversation with the institution, what's your plan, and then that way we could, if people were having financial situations, be able to work that out and hear what the different circumstances were, again, not bumping into when the academic year starts.”
“Because what we experience on our side,” said Porter, “we're not finding out until the bitter end… and then sometimes we're limited on funds that we can give and what we're able to do to help families.”
According to Porter, prior to this switch some students were being charged, or entering payment plans that were not beneficial. Due to lack of communication by some students, accounts were charged on that day regardless of the number on the statement.
“The institution is actually not against the student, we are actually for you,” said Porter. “Because if some of these students cannot make those payments, and they're registered in the courses, and the semester begins, now you are getting charged. So if there was any kind of circumstance that you, for whatever reason, actually may need to unenroll, because there is a very severe situation or something, you now are incurring even more debt, and something that you can't pay.”
The change made was aimed to combat that issue by contacting students directly and establishing payment plans that ended in the school getting bills fulfilled while saving students money.
According to Porter, that is exactly what it accomplished. “Students started responding. So that's the good thing. Of course, I know I probably annoyed a lot of people in the beginning. But people could see that, okay, maybe I do need to answer. And then they were able to get a lot of things worked out.”
In the end, Porter said out of the approximate 500 students, only one student was unenrolled for this semester.
“And again, I didn't get into this work to harm students. I got into this to make sure people get to the finish line. And the only way they're gonna get there is if they have the information they need to make decisions, including the financial decisions,” said Porter.