[Checklist] How to collect fees while keeping students in school

Don't just be a debt-collector, be a resource

Writing for University Business, Nancy Mann Jackson shares a few ways that college and university bursars can nudge past-due students to finalize their tuition and fees—without hurting that student's relationship with the broader campus community 

1. Put students at the center 

Tyson Cooper, director of financial services and associate director of human resources at Southern Virginia University (SVU), talks about what she calls a "student-centered" approach. This means making sure students and their families understand that student accounts workers are on their side. It can also mean thinking about website design, Cooper says. Can students access their information at any time? Is it easy to make a payment? 

2. Communicate expectations

Ensure all students know exactly how much they need to pay and what the specific, successive consequences will be if they do not. For example, students at Johnson County Community College sign a Statement of Student Financial Responsibility that clearly explains what's expected of students—and what they can expect from the college. 

3. Intervene early

The sooner you identify and offer help to a student who appears to be struggling, the better, says Beth Stack, associate vice chancellor of student financial services at the University of Pittsburgh. This can include actions such as frequent reminders about payment due dates via phone and email starting at the beginning of the semester.

At SVU, Cooper says that students with unpaid balances may even receive in-person visits from faculty advisors or coaches at their dorm room or outside of classes. 

Retaining students in financial distress

4. Customize your approach

Different support systems and interventions will work best for different students, says Thomas Schmidt, associate director of the office of student finance at the University of Minnesota.

"We see our role as assisting students and their families in identifying options that will allow them to make payment and continue their education objectives," says Stack. 

5. Broaden options for payment

Alternative repayment options can help students move forward with registering for classes and stay in school. For example, Texas Tech University allows students to apply for a "prior-term loan," which enables them to pay for past-due charges so that they can register for the next semester. They simply repay this amount within five business days.

6. Get others on board

Administrators across campus should also be encouraging students to be in touch with the financial aid and bursar offices if they have concerns about paying for their education, Jackson writes. "They need to know that we care about the students and do want them to succeed," says Schmidt.

Helping students get over financial hurdles can help them retain and graduate. Some universities like Georgia State University have begun using microgrant programs to help students who encounter a financial obstacle to stay on track (Jackson, University Business, 3/27).

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How to improve online student retention (Yes, it can be done)

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