Rebecca Dickson, Reporter
Calls from collections and threats of being dropped from classes – a Pierce College student faced issues with her Tuition Installment Plan, which resulted in collections being called even though she made her full first payment days before it was due.
Student Catherine Mann started attending Pierce in fall 2015 and started using the installment plan in winter quarter 2016. She’s only eligible for unsubsidized loans, so she chose to use the TIP as she’s mostly paying for college herself.
“(The Tuition Installment Plan) makes it so much easier on me,” Mann said. “It’s more financially beneficial. You get time for financial aid to kick in.”
After financial aid or scholarships are applied, cashiers calculated the amount of tuition and fees Mann was required to pay. After adding the $25 processing fee, cashiers split the tuition payments into three equal parts. The first payment was due the day tuition was due for those who weren’t on the plan.
Mann correctly went through the process. She filled out the one-sheet contract outside of the cashiering office. The contract asked her for her for basic information.
Mann said she paid her first payment days before the deadline. According to the cashiering website, her plan was valid as soon as she made her first payment. All she needed to do was to pay the rest of the payments on time.
Suddenly, plans took a wrong turn. The day the first payment was due, she received a call from collections, which went to her voice mail.
Allegedly, a collections officer told Mann that if she didn’t pay her tuition within a few days, she’d be dropped from her classes.
“(I was) enraged, especially because it was the beginning of a really long month,” Mann said.
Although Mann acknowledged that the contract notified her collections could be called if she didn’t make payments, she was surprised to receive a phone call as she had made payments.
She called the cashiering office immediately. Within 24 hours, the entire error was fixed and Mann was relieved.
“I wanted to cry because I was super relieved,” Mann said. “When you have money problems, when you’re a college student working 20 to 25 hours a week, buying books, buying food, getting that weight off of your shoulders is intense. People make mistakes. It was an honest mistake. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t freaky for me, though.”
Allegedly, the error was an incorrect budget code. According to Mann, when her plan was set up, the TIP was not listed as a TIP. It was listed as a full tuition payment. Because Mann didn’t pay the full tuition (as the contact didn’t require it), the debt was immediately sent to collections.
Although Keith Whisenhunt, cashiering specialist, didn’t comment on Mann’s case specifically, he said that if there are errors with students TIP, they should bring it to the cashiers attention.
“If it was a mistake on our end, we will do everything in our power to correct it,” he said.
Jonathan Martinee, another Pierce student, is also using the TIP to pay for college classes. He has never had issues with the TIP.
“I’m paying for my college, so it helps (me) save up for what I need,” Martinee said. “I’ve been able to save up for the due dates. It’s quite beneficial. It’s a perfect way to pay your tuition.”
Oftentimes, students have difficulties paying tuition in one lump sum. TIPs are options for students who may not be able to afford paying tuition in a lump sum.
“Simply put, it’s a way to mitigate the immediate-out-of pocket expenses,” Whisenhunt said. “It can make tuition much more approachable for students. Everyone who’s a student qualifies to do a tuition installment plan, and we encourage any student who has questions to come to us directly and we would be more than happy to help.”
Despite Mann’s troubles with the TIP, she still thinks it’s a wonderfully beneficial program.
“Just because you’re hearing these horror stories, don’t knock it ‘till you try it,” Mann said. “These people are wonderful people. Just because this happened to a friend of a friend of a cousin, (it) doesn’t mean it’ll happen to you.”
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