Why your Florida college education is a little like an in-store credit card

February 5, 2008

I’m demoralized about many things on this Super-cranky Tuesday, so I’m just going to post this lovely missive in its entirety, as found in my inbox this morning:

Tuition and Fee Collections Information
Spring Semester, 2008                                    February 4, 2008

Dear Florida Atlantic University Student:

We would like to take a moment to pass along some important information to you regarding your tuition and fee payments that includes pertinent timeframes, calendar dates, and collection agency details. Below is a semester schedule reflecting critical dates and corresponding information with which you should become familiar.  While we are already well into the semester and some dates have passed, we feel it important to provide  you with a complete timeframe for payments, late fees/penalties, and credit bureau intervention.

Classes Begin    January 5
Drop/add deadline    January 16
Final day to pay tuition/fees without late fees attached     January 17
Final day to withdraw completely and receive a 25% refund       February 4
Last day of Spring semester    May 2
Accounts sent to collection agency if balances remain     May 19
Collection Agency sends accounts to a credit bureau ? (could affect your credit rating).    August 19

As you can see, payments made after January 17 are assessed late fees.  After May 19th all accounts with past due balances will be turned over to a collection agency.  The collection agency will process the student account on behalf of FAU and collect the past-due balance; please note that once a student account is placed with a collection agency, the account will be assessed significant collection costs (determined by the collection agency and up to 33.33% percent of the balance due).  Most important to note is that the collection agency will submit the delinquent account to the three (3) major credit bureaus credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.  Please be advised that once an account is submitted to a major credit bureau your overall credit rating may be adversely affected.  Finally a ?hold? will be placed on a student?s account once it is transferred to a collection agency.  This means that until these balances are paid in full you will be prevented from future registration, receipt of official transcripts and access to grades.  Your full balance must be paid in order to resume normal university activities.We hope you find this information helpful to you as you plan for your financial obligations over the coming months.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at Student.Collections@fau.edu.  We wish you much success this semester.
Sincerely,

[REDACTED], CPA, CBM
Assistant Vice President for Financial Affairs and University Controller

I’ve started noticing that since we the most recent student data systems switch, I’ve been getting monthly emails with subject lines like “February 2008 Billing Statement” that has a link to my February “statement” which is “ready.” Keep in mind, there’s nothing on this statement, I’ve paid my tuition already and haven’t used my student account. I thought the system worked fine before–once a semester, I paid all my bills in full using whatever funds I had arranged and I didn’t hear about it again until next semester. I never used to get reminders that I had this open account called being a student at FAU, which may or may not be subject to interest as I speak. The main change that I’ve seen in the system is that it now openly acts like a for-profit credit institution. Seeing the kind of language that I expect from a bank or a credit card on communications from my school, sent to my email before I’m even remotely delinquent is very disconcerting. Maybe it’s always been this way, maybe past due tuition has always been farmed out to a collections agency at this school. I know the transcript hold is nothing new. Still, it’s gotten a lot more in your face of late. I am very upset to see the school openly treat students like regular customers (I’m pretty adamant about students not treating schools like stores, either, but that’s another story equally upsetting in the telling), showing no sensitivity to the fact that being a college student really is one of the most vulnerable times in a lot of people’s lives. You are more likely not to have health insurance than an almost any other time in your life (although this is changing, as fewer and fewer employers offer it). You are more likely to be driving an unreliable car, living in an unstable situation, and working a low-paying job. Not all of us had/have parents paying the tuition. Not all of us had/have steady jobs. Things can happen that are beyond our control, and we are already set to pay the price for these events in plenty of ways. For our school, the institution that we have placed some degree of emotional trust in and a whole lot of economic trust, to openly tell us that they think it is fine to farm us out to the professional pound of flesh gatherers and potentially subject us to usurious practices if we are unable to pay our tuition on time is disgusting. I know it’s not illegal to charge exorbitant interest in this country, but for a school to stoop to the level of  a Penney’s card is profoundly upsetting. It’s not like we spent that money on flat screens and rims. That’s tuition money they’re going after. Most of all, I hate the tone of this email: we would like to kindly warn you that you maybe be used. And now that we’ve warned you, it’s okay to do it.

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