Payment Plan Policy Forces City Colleges of Chicago Students to Pay Up

A payment plan policy resurrected this year by the City Colleges of Chicago requires all students to set up a payment plan before classes start or risk having their classes canceled. It’s a policy designed to minimize debt City Colleges incurs annually when students take classes but do not pay their full balances, according to Katheryn Hayes, a spokeswoman for City Colleges.

The new plan will help students better manage their finances by ensuring that the “pay as you go” policy will help mitigate student debt. “Payment deadlines are common practice at community colleges and universities across the city, state and country. To benefit students’ academic and financial health and that of the institution, City Colleges reinstated this deadline after it was removed by a prior administration in 2016,”  explained Hayes.

Only 33 percent of City Colleges of Chicago students received financial aid between Fall 2018 and Summer 2019, according to City Colleges of Chicago data. This would indicate that a lot of students are paying for their classes out-of-pocket. And to be eligible to receive state and federal financial aid a student must be enrolled at least halftime or for six credit hours.

But at Kennedy-King College in Englewood students said while they understand the reason for such a policy they question whether it will do more harm than good.

“I know there are students who don’t pay their bills, but that’s probably because they don’t have the money,” said Carlos Mays, 34. “A lot of students are either unemployed or underemployed and cannot afford to pay upfront for their classes or pay monthly. I don’t think students should be forced to make monthly payments when all they are trying to do is get an education to better themselves.”

Before a payment plan can be arranged a $30 fee must be paid and there’s no waiver available for low-income students. And students can set up plans online or in-person.

“Unfortunately, there is not a waiver for that. That’s a fee we pay our vendor who manages our payment plans on our behalf,” said Mark Potter, provost and chief academic officer for City Colleges of Chicago. “If a student can’t demonstrate a way to pay their tuition then they won’t be able to continue that term.”

But Hayes said City Colleges does offer financial assistance that could be used to pay for fees and tuition. Thanks to a partnership with the nonprofit All Chicago, Hayes said a student could receive a one-time payment up to $750 in financial assistance from City Colleges.

“We recently launched an emergency fund. So, if they [students] have an electricity bill that they absolutely need to get paid or else they can’t study, we would go through the process of verifying that and pay the vendor directly,” said Hayes.

Potter added that students with pending financial aid would not be dropped from classes “while we wait for their financial aid award to be made official.”

But timing is everything, Mays said, referring to when students were made aware of the payment plan policy. “I don’t check my email like that so if they send an email, I probably won’t see it,” said Mays, who learned about the policy from another student. “I wonder how many other students did not see email notifications on this payment plan thing.”

According to Hayes, students were first informed on March 29 by email and have since received several communications specifically about the payment deadline.

“Students received numerous messages about the payment verification deadline, including a total of 43 communications (emails, texts or robo calls) from City Colleges’ main office that included information about the payment deadline,” she said. “In addition, there was signage on campus and on the CCC website. The payment deadline was also included in 14 registration emails, six student newsletters and six scholarship emails.”

An Aug. 7 email from City Colleges the Chicago Defenderobtained reminded students to set up a payment plan by Aug. 12 or their classes would be canceled.

“On Aug. 12 we removed students who had not paid because that was our payment deadline,” said Potter. “But if there’s a ‘high’ likelihood that a student will be awarded financial aid and that award has not yet been made official they do not need to signup for a payment plan.”

At the end of the day, Hayes said, “It’s all about helping our students be able to complete their course work.”

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