Monday, August 04, 2008


Ask the Administrator: Deletes for Non-Payment

A returning correspondent writes:

I have a "student as consumer" question for your blog.

Our students have been able to register for fall classes for months now and all of the prime sections are full, but many have not yet paid their fees. In a week or so the ones who have not paid will be dropped from their classes, opening up those sections to kids who put off registering until now. The deadline is in the dead time between semesters, before most students come back to town. The questions are

1) What does your college do if they only owe some small amount, say for fees that are not covered by financial aid? Do they lose all of their classes, only one class so the others are paid in full, or do you carry that debt until the first week of class or even the end of the semester like parking fines?

2) Is there any penalty for not paying on time? Some colleges lock them out for a day, giving all other students a shot at the classes they didn't pay for.

3) What payment policy would you have at your ideal college?

I’ve seen this handled in different ways.

At Proprietary U, there were all manner of payment plans, revolving funds, and extensions available; the thinking was that once you kick someone out, you may not get him back. The downside, though, was that students figured out pretty quickly that payment was effectively optional. As a commuter campus, the only place students could be found reliably was in class. (For reasons unknown, they never seemed to check emails, and we used to joke that our snail mail was sent by Pony Express. Phones were completely hopeless.) So in practice, faculty had to be bouncers. They’d receive ‘callout lists’ each week, and they were expected to send the identified students out of class to either Financial Aid or the Cashier’s Window (what most colleges call the Bursar). This was never popular with the faculty, since the students would invariably (and sometimes correctly) claim that their names were included on the list in error.

In my faculty days, I’ll admit that my compliance with the callout list was, um, let’s go with ‘spotty.’

When I decamped for my current college, I saw a much more straightforward ‘delete’ policy, in which students who weren’t paid in full by X date (well in advance of the start of the semester) were simply dropped from the classes for which they had signed up. You still hear denial, sob stories, and the rest, but the incentives are different; rather than rewarding foot-dragging, this system rewards promptness. Issues still pop up, but not to the same level they did at PU.

The headaches come when a deleted student pays up and tries to re-enroll, only to find that several of his classes are now full, since others swooped in and took the newly-opened seats. (This is especially brutal in areas like Biology, which combine high demand with fixed capacity.) Students can get thrown off their intended path to graduation because a lender dragged its feet. In practice, we’re likelier to try to bend rules for students in those situations, but certain courses have hard caps that really can’t be exceeded.

I’ve heard suggestions from time to time of pro-rated deletes, wherein a student whose payment is, say, two-thirds of what it should be is only deleted from two-thirds of his schedule. While there’s a certain intuitive appeal to that, the implementation has ‘nightmare’ written all over it. It also ignores the reality of the magical 12 credit threshold, since a great many benefits hang on ‘full-time student’ status.

I don’t have an ideal solution to this. Ideally, financial aid would be painless, seamless, and quick, and everybody would be conscientious about paying their obligations. Also, I’d have washboard abs, Laura Dern would have me on speed dial, and it would only rain at night. In the real world, things are messier.

Wise and worldly readers – what have you seen? Is there a better system?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

I have no solution, just a point of view.

First, as faculty, I will not call students out of my class and send them to the bursar. What an invasion of the student's privacy! Everyone knows what that means; I'm not going to do it. I've told my chair that he is free to come and get kids, but don't expect me to announce to the whole class that Stu Dent can't pay his bills.

Second, my students are all disabled, so the vast majority are being funded through Vocational Rehabilitation. Some VR offices drag their feet in sending payment, to the point where it will be the fifth week of a ten-week quarter before some of the students are able to buy their books and calculators and all those things that physics students find handy. I have a couple of copies of the text on reserve at the library, but golly, there has to be a better way.
I won't call them out either --

I do have a rotating class list that serves as a sign-in sheet. When the new class list comes out with the dropped students deleted, I update it. There are many ways that students can think they are registered, but may not be so -- so my disclaimer is that if you don't see yourself on the list, come talk to me and/or check your registration status with the registrar...

The way I understand our policy, if the student has applied for financial aid (which they do via us) then they are kept in class. Otherwise, they are dropped sometime before class starts. I dont like the policy, but I do understand it.

I wish I could instantly drop students who fail to attend the first one or two class meetings -- because I usually have students who would like to get in.
As someone who was de-registered every semester of my grad school life (for the final degree), I understand the pain of having to go through the process of re-enrolling. For me, it required an unpleasant meeting with someone in the Dean of the Grad School's office. Usually, the issue was related to financial aid and my department, but often could be traced back to me not doing what I was supposed to do. Luckily, I never had much competition for classes, so re-enrolling wasn't too hard.

My students face the challenges you outline here. I think that if a student has applied for student aid, I would keep them in class. If they have money coming from Voc Rehab, they get to stay. I like the system where they cannot proceed until they have paid for last semester. That seems the best from my POV.
We have a rule that if you do not pay your fees within a couple weeks of registering, you get dropped and have to start again. Our late fees kick in the first day of the semester and grow progressively more extreme as the semester rolls along ($50 - $150 - $250). The highest fee is for adding a class past our census date (after which the enrollment doesn't get us any more state funding.)

Sometimes, this means that students who are more financially challenged have a harder time registering for classes that fill quickly because they miss the early registration period because of lack of funds. We also have a payment plan for students but if they miss any of the payments they are dropped from their classes and if this happens after the census date it is nearly impossible for them to reregister. For graduate students, this means that they are unable to register for classes the following semester and have to reapply for admissions.

Not the cleanest system but better than a couple years ago when there were no late fees and people who were financially challenged would wait to register until the first week of school and then drop out three weeks later - too late for other students to take their place. The payment plans have really helped us with those folks as well - for some people it's just easier to pay monthly than to save up and send in the big check.
In a perfect world, those students who value the education they are about to receive deserve priority over those students who are simply attending class for the purpose of delaying having to work for a living.

How do we determnine the value an individual student places on their own education?

Students paying their own way are motivated.

Students leeching off of some scholarship program or another are somewhat less motivated.

Those students willing to sacrifice should have priority.
Students leeching off of some scholarship program or another are somewhat less motivated.

Ow! Geez, judge much? My daughters both attended excellent schools on merit scholarships. They weren't "leeching" off anything; they earned those scholarships by exemplary achievement in high school, and had to maintain those high standards all through their undergrad programs. And they did. They were highly motivated.

I do have students relying on Vocational Rehab money who slack off from Day 1, but I find that those students are often there because their parents insisted that they come to us, not because they are, themselves, eager to be here. Students paying their own ways aren't motivated because they are paying, they're paying because they're motivated. Students being financially supported can go either way, and do.
Odd comment from YaCP, since students on scholarship money rarely have a problem paying their tuition bill in our system. It happens automatically. The ones with a problem are usually the ones paying their own way. And if you think a loan is free money, you need to read a recent thread on IHE.
"As someone who was de-registered every semester of my grad school life"

Me too! PeopleSoft dumped me EVERY SINGLE SEMESTER. I ended up with my own person assigned to me in the registrar's office and bursar's office, since it took two hours to explain every time and work up the system to someone who could figure out the problem. (The problem? PEOPLESOFT.)

Only one semester did I get bumped from a class I really wanted/needed, which I guess is the benefit of being in grad school; it's so much smaller.

I *always* did what I was supposed to do; it turns out PeopleSoft couldn't cope with a joint degree program the school offered and six of us (over my tenure) were enrolled in, and so dumped us all each and every semester. In the eight semesters I was there, nobody ever fixed it and it always seemed to come as a shock to the folks in charge.
Oh, and three or four times, PeopleSoft insisted that I wasn't enrolled at the university, and SENT MY STUDENT LOANS BACK TO THE FEDS. Nothing like having no food money until November while they reprocess it!
"Students leeching off of some scholarship program or another are somewhat less motivated."

I have to agree with vicki - OUCH! I was only able to go to college thanks to the scholarships offered to me because of my academic achievements in high school, and I had to keep up my grades in college to keep them. I know quite a few college students who "pay their own way" (actually their parents pay their way) who were much less motivated than I or any of my "leeching" friends. I hope my professors didn't take an instant dislike to me just because I wasn't wealthy enough to afford a 4-year school without help.
Our university doesn't drop students as much as freeze their records. Student with unpaid tuition or any other university fees are unable to receive their grades, transcripts or register or register for the next semester. Any unpaid fees result in you not being able to register for the subsequent sessions. However, it does not lead to being removed from the current session in progress.
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