Tuition and Fee Accounts Sent to Debt Collections…. Explained

The state’s steadying disinvestment is one of the leading causes of the rising cost of public higher education in Virginia. This decline has resulted in shifting the responsibility for education-related costs at public institutions to students and their families, and sometimes causing them to struggle to meet their tuition needs without taking on large amounts of student debt.

In some instances, students may find it easier to pay down the remainder of their tuition and fees in installments but may still be left with a balance at the end of the semester. This can be troubling and scary, especially if you start getting past due notices or even have your account sent to collections. At some institutions, you may also be unable to register for classes for the next semester if you have a balance on your account.

As a student you have rights and there are actions you can take before the situation escalates to the point of past due notices and collections agencies. Below is a list of helpful tips that every student at a Virginia public college or university should be aware of to help them either prevent a default of their tuition and fee account or avoid referral of the account to collection:

  1. Communicate with your school’s Bursar or Student Accounts and Financial Aid offices early in the semester if you know there is a possibility that you still have financial need;

  2. Students can provide their parents with authorization to speak with the school regarding financial matters (this is usually done by filling out a form);

  3. Though it’s understandable that students may want to avoid taking on additional debt, you can secure their student loan financing before registering for classes or before the add/drop period closes;

  4. Students can familiarize themselves with the school’s withdrawal policy (usually found in the student handbook) and withdraw from classes within the time period to obtain a full or partial refund;

  5. Some schools have an internal administrative appeal process that permits students to challenge their bills for tuition and fees on various grounds;

  6. You have the right to enter into a periodic payment plan to pay the debt over the course of the semester if you are unable to pay in full by the due date, BUT schools have the discretion to offer a payment plan over a longer period of time, so don’t be afraid to ask! The terms of the payment plan should be in writing and the student should obtain a copy of the terms.

Universities report that only about 1 percent or fewer student accounts end up going to collections, but students should just be aware of their rights.

If you have questions about this topic or would like to have a policy issue or higher education topic explained, email Gerica Goodman, gerica@virginia21.org.