3 questions about tuition payment agreements—answered

Best practices for using financial responsibility agreements to communicate students’ obligations to make tuition payments

It’s a concept that may seem unnecessary but is now required by most colleges and universities: having each student sign a formal agreement stating that they must pay their tuition.

The documents attempt to ensure students are aware of details such as what they owe and exactly what happens if they don’t pay by a certain date. Student financial responsibility agreements also help protect the institution.

Having the answers to three questions will aid in making sure that your college’s agreement is most effective.

1. Why require a signature?

While it’s often a last resort, some student accounts do wind up in collections. Having a signed agreement can help in recovering tuition payments that are way past due.

Still, financial aid administrators admit, it’s unlikely that any student is reading through the complete document before signing.

Recent court rulings prove the necessity of crafting strong agreements. In one case, a judge ruled that the contract must contain specific language for charging collection fees back to the student.

Top topics for a student financial responsibility agreement (click on infographic to enlarge)
Top topics for a student financial responsibility agreement (click on infographic to enlarge)

Another reason for getting a signed agreement is to inform students about expectations and policies related to e-billing, late fees, tax forms and contact methods.

For example, here is University of Denver’s student financial responsibility agreement.

2. How should the document be worded?

NACUBO offers model language to include in student financial responsibility agreements, and continues to update its document to keep up with court decisions and changes to case law.

Suggested language covers four topics: a promise to pay, delinquent accounts and collections, communications, and language explaining that the current agreement overrides previous agreements. Leaders at individual schools may decide to include additional topics and focus on one area over another. Experts advise having legal counsel examine any agreement or updated agreement.

Also read: College tuition: Past due

3. What comes next?

Recognize that implementing a new agreement can require modifying student information systems and giving staff additional tasks.

In terms of actually getting students to sign an agreement, realize that there may be questions and requests to change the language. Experts say a modified agreement should never be accepted. Concerns, however, could be passed along to legal counsel for future consideration.

A student should be able to refer back to their signed agreement when they have questions about their responsibilities or the institution’s processes. Some institutions make the signed contract visible on student portals. Staff may remind a student to reread it when there’s a question.

In addition, administrators who must refer a student to collections can send the signed form to the outside agency.

At the end of the day, the financial responsibility agreement is good for the institution and for students and families—and the contract is worth having so everyone is on the same page.

Read the full original article on student financial responsibility agreements.

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.


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