Students at Thomas Jefferson University were surprised to receive stern notices about unpaid bills in early September.
The emailed notices said students had to arrange to pay outstanding tuition bills in the next six days or they would be dropped from fall classes, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The college, which merged with the largely undergraduate Philadelphia University two years ago, had sent out similar warnings before to its graduate student population. However, undergraduate students told the Inquirer that the notices were the harshest warning about unpaid bills that they’d received thus far.
Students held a sit-in to push back on the email, and the university withdrew its threat to de-enroll students with unpaid bills.
According to a statement from the university, the email was a result of integrating information systems after the merger that led to “the distribution of a standard communication” that admittedly “caused distress.”
“We appreciate the efforts our students and our Student Government Association (SGA) made to make us aware of how this communication was received,” Angela Showell, a spokeswoman for the university, said in a statement. “We have taken steps to ensure clearer communications in the future and to help students resolve outstanding issues around tuition statements. Additionally, we have assured students that we will continue to work with them as the integration progresses. We have met with students and have received good feedback on the steps we have taken to date.”
The widely publicized incident led to discussions in higher ed circles about how far colleges should go in trying to get students to pay up. There is a wide spectrum of opinions on what strategies colleges should use to ensure tuition and other fees are paid. The National Association of College and University Business Officers focused on this issue in a 2016 article published in its magazine, Business Officer, that looked at what various institutions do to collect money owed.
Some colleges prevent students with high balances from registering for the next semester, while others offer them interest- and fee-free loans. Some institutions charge late fees but don’t automatically drop students until after the add/drop period is over.
“Colleges and universities take different approaches to helping students understand their financial obligations,” Liz Clark, vice president of policy and research at the association of business officers, said in a statement. “NACUBO surveys have found that institutions help their students navigate their tuition and fee responsibilities by offering payment plans, financial literacy, and money management trainings.” …(continue reading)