Staff Writer: Brianna Weston
A new tuition payment policy put into effect by the Wingate Business Office
last semester delayed and, in some cases, prevented students from
registering for spring semester classes on time and currently has the
campus buzzing about all the recent billing confusion.
Where previously students were allowed to have up to a $1,500 balance
before a “hold” was placed on their account, the new policy requires that no
more than $500 be owed before students are allowed to register and receive
Students with outstanding balances were notified via email by the Business
Office and Bulldog Central last August that they had to take part in a
payment plan or pay in full if they wanted to register for classes and retain
housing for the spring 2023 semester. The hold was placed on the account
if neither request was completed by Oct. 25, preventing students from
registering for spring courses unless their debt was less than $500.
Bulldog Central sent out the following e-mail to all students who had yet to
make that decision early last October: “This is a reminder that you have a
past due balance owed to Wingate University. It is extremely important
that you resolve this issue as soon as possible. If you do not make payment
arrangements (payment in full/a current payment plan) or complete
financial aid options (Parent PLUS or Alternative loans) prior to Oct. 25,
you WILL NOT be able to register for spring courses. You must owe LESS
THAN $500 before you will be permitted to register for future semesters.
If you owe a balance over $500 prior to Dec. 11, you will also LOSE
HOUSING for the spring semester. … ”
There are many reasons why a student may have a high balance, including
not accepting scholarships, not having enough loan coverage or not being covered by FAFSA. Additionally, most work-study jobs pay just above
minimum wage with usually no more than 10 hours per week offered to
Wingate Student Accounts Manager Connie Gaston said the change in
policy came about, in part, because of the tough times generated by Covid-
19, when “student balances skyrocketed to where [some students] owed
over $10,000 and did not pay it down.”
However, a significant problem with the new payment plan system is that it
charges an additional $35 fee on top of the first month’s balance. Payments
made online appear on your balance with an additional $8-10
added every time. Furthermore, a late fee of $10 will be added if the
payment is made after the due date. The extra fees have added to the
financial challenge that students face, making them owe even more money.
Regardless of whether a student is on a payment plan or decides to pay in
person to avoid fees, the check does not go toward the current month’s
balance. That frustrated Wingate senior Christyn Nichols, who said that
every check she gave in person decreased her overall balance but did not
satisfy her current balance for the month.
“If you pay in person, it should go toward the amount due that month and
not the total amount,” said Nichols, a criminal justice and psychology major
from Cypress, Texas. “I was so irritated because I was like, ‘You guys see me
every two weeks.’ I don’t think the payment plan should have an extra fee.”
New Wingate Chief Financial Officer Melissa Perdue, who replaced
departed Craig Addison in that role last January (Addison left after two
years to become the chief human resources officer at Georgia Banking
Company), instituted the policy and it was in effect for the first time last
semester. An initial e-mail sent at the beginning of the semester indicated
payment would be due Oct. 25, but that deadline was later changed to Nov. 11. When the November deadline began to be enforced, many students were
surprised and taken aback by the immediate demand for payment.
Bulldog Central Assistant Director Briana Crowell sent out an email Nov. 11
to past-due students with the following subject line: “URGENT!!! Your
Schedule WILL be dropped!”
“This is an Urgent Final Notice that your Spring 2023 schedule WILL be dropped if the Business Office doesn’t receive your full November payment by Monday, Nov. 14,” Crowell wrote. “Please make your payment ASAP to avoid any issues on Nov. 15.”
Some students felt the four days’ notice wasn’t enough.
Wingate Student Accounts Manager Connie Gaston said the Business Office did its best to be lenient while enforcing the new policy. Hence, it was not stringently enforced before the beginning of the fall semester and was gradually implemented throughout that time with the help of Bulldog Central. However, Wingate students are often deluged with emails from the school during a semester and important notices like the change-in-payment policy get lost in the shuffle, resulting in confusion once the email is discovered.
With all of the new complications arising, students turned to social media in search of help from their peers. A few comments appeared on the new app YikYak expressing the frustration of having to pay in full immediately or be dropped from courses altogether.
Gaston said her office wanted to “give students some time to come to Bulldog Central to attain their options for payment.”
Some of the options that are available for students with high balances are to apply for a student loan, a ParentPLUS loan or enter into a payment plan.
With all of the challenges of affording a college education these days, Wingate students are hoping for a different approach to making sure all options are clearly stated before the beginning of each semester.
“I don’t think I was treated fairly,” Nichols said.