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Erin McGoff, 22, was enrolled in an automatic payment plan at Drexel University and never thought twice about her quarterly tuition bills.

After her freshman year, Erin decided to transfer from Drexel to American University, and went about her life the way she always had.

Until, almost 3 years later, she says she received a letter from Drexel, insisting she owed them $23,000 — and that they’d see her in court.

Erin and her parents were shocked.

“We literally thought it was a scam,” she tells us. “This is the first time that I ever was made aware of this outstanding balance. And we wrote to Drexel like, ‘hey, is this real? How can this be real?’”

Drexel’s response: she apparently had an outstanding balance that had been compounding monthly at 1 percent interest for almost 3 years.

Frantic, Erin retraced all her steps until she found a lone email, sent to her old Drexel address after she’d already transferred, informing her of the impending balance.

Given that she had previously been enrolled in auto-payments and the university had made no additional attempts to contact her, she had no idea it even existed.

And now she’s stuck not only with a bill, but a legal battle.

Unfortunately, Erin isn’t the only student facing things like this.

The problem? Transparency. For many students, the right information they need to understand their college costs isn’t available, isn’t understandable, or isn’t the whole story — and in some cases, it’s flat-out wrong.

Some colleges — especially for-profit institutions — post inaccurate job placement rates, luring in vulnerable students with the promise of lucrative post-grad careers. Then, when these students graduate with student loans that they thought were investments, they find out it was all just a marketing ploy. 

Corinthian College was recently found guilty of that and was forced to close its doors, leaving 16,000 students without a college. But their federal student loans were still very much alive and well. What a nightmare.

When colleges don’t treat their students with respect — as customers or even as people — it makes America’s younger generation question the entire institution of higher education altogether.

Especially because they’re already discouraged. Business Insider reports that 57 percent of millennials regret financing their college education. Even scarier, 36 percent say they would not have attended college if they knew what they’d end up paying.

Learn more about it here, and then scroll down for more info on what you can do to protect yourself: 

There are things you can do to be proactive.

For example, if you’re a transfer student like Erin, make sure to keep a copy of your log-in information for your old .edu accounts so that you can check for outstanding balances. Even after you leave your old university, check often.

Additionally, at the end of every semester, contact the bursar’s office at your college to review your account and make sure that every payment has been processed. It might feel excessive, but it’s an essential step. Some schools have been known to tack on school fees that aren’t included in the overall tuition price, so you might not even know they’re there.

And Erin offers one last piece of advice: “Go to a school with integrity. Read what people are saying online about your school before you go. Seriously research how that college operates.”

So what does this mean for the future of higher education in America?

“We live in a time where we’re gonna have to pay the most for college than any generation,” says Erin. “I hope a revolution is coming soon, because this is ridiculous.”

We hope so too, Erin. Until then, we’re here to help students like her get as much financial aid as possible so they can avoid costs altogether.

We are not affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education. Federal Student Aid (FSA), an office of the U.S. Department of Education, makes the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form and assistance available to the public for free at fafsa.gov.