Baca seeks feedback on current process, which freezes student academic accounts after 10 days

Western’s current Executive Vice President Brad Baca (and newly selected future President) came before SGA to discuss Western’s current process for handling late student payments in cases where students have not made payment arrangements. Baca noted that some faculty had raised concerns about the current plan, which freezes access to student’s academic resources.  

Baca began by noting that students should receive a preterm billing statement five to six weeks before classes begin, which is updated monthly. Closer to the start of the term, students should receive updated billing statements 10 days before courses begin that detail their updated statement, accounting for relevant financial aid and scholarship information. 

Student’s accounts are considered late if they have not made the required payments, or plans to do so, by the first day of classes. Baca noted that the school’s financial personnel attempt to work with Residence Life, Athletics, and other campus departments connected to students to ensure that individual students receive the message about the need to arrange payment. 

Baca also notes that no penalties are assessed to students until day 10 of missing payments, although reminders are sent via email every couple days during this time period. On day 10, students with outstanding balances of more than $200 dollars who have not made payment accommodations have their MyWestern and Canvas accounts frozen until arrangements are made. Once payments are made, account access is usually restored within the hour.

The future university president presented data that showed that roughly 160 students (7 percent of the student body) per semester have their accounts temporarily disabled due to late payment, but that 60 percent of those accounts are restored within 24 hours, and more than 90 percent by the fifth day. 

He says that the pros for the current system are acquiring the student’s attention and understanding that students no longer intend to attend Western courses, and promptly disenrolling these students. He notes that the system, due its high response rate, minimizes Western’s financial risk. Notable drawbacks include the temporary disruption of student learning, and the loss of critical learning time early in the semester.

Baca says that Western’s current late payment system is rather unique, and that other peer institutions in Colorado utilize a late fee system, whereby late fees ranging from $50 to $200 can be tacked on for each missed deadline. Monthly charges as high as 1 to 1.5 percent of total balance are also charged at some institutions. Some schools bar students from enrolling in coursework for the following semester, by which point students may have already racked up large amounts of late fees. 

Baca describes these plans as a “slow and delayed trigger”, as opposed to Western’s more immediate system which lets students know where they stand quickly. Several students said that Western’s current method of addressing late payments is preferable to assessing additional fees which only contribute to student debt. 

Students also noted that communication around payments could be improved, utilizing text message reminders, phone calls, and large banner messages on Canvas informing students of late payment, and providing warnings before accounts are shut off. 

Several more students expressed that earlier information about financial aid and scholarship information would be helpful to give students a more complete picture of their financial obligations early on, so they can plan accordingly. 

Cindy Mollendor noted that EPIC Mentors can assist first year students with understanding the financial and payment system, while another SGA representative noted that first-generation students may not be as in the know as students with parents who attended college. 

Baca asked student representatives to seek input from their constituent. He plans to return to SGA to further address the issue, receive additional input, and lay out his visions for Western when he assumes the presidency, likely in July.

Stay tuned for more coverage of SGA.