In an attempt to prevent students from incurring large amounts of student debt, Mississippi State University is introducing a new tuition payment policy.
These changes will begin the Fall of 2018 semester and the July billing cycle. According to Kevin Edelblute, MSU’s assistant vice president and controller/treasurer, students will be required to pay their expenses at the start of each semester or set up a monthly payment plan for their tuition, on-campus housing, meal plan and other university-related expenses.
In addition, all statement due dates will be moved from the ninth of each month to the first. The first example of this will be in July when students will receive their statement on July 15, and the expenses will be due Aug. 1.
Edelblute said this new timeline of payments allows both the university and its students to realize any possible payment issues before school starts two weeks later.
“We can connect with those students to let them know ‘you still have not taken care of paying in advance or getting into a payment plan, you have about two weeks before school starts, take action now,’” Edelblute said. “We thought by compressing the due date, it will give us more time to contact students, and them more time to do what they need to do.”
Edelblute explained while change is usually accepted with some difficulty, when students realize this change is being made with their best interests at heart, they will appreciate the new policy.
According to statistics provided by the MSU financial aid office, 354 of the 3,624 students in the Fall 2016 freshman cohort (9.8 percent) did not return for Spring 2017. These 354 students collectively owed MSU over one million dollars, with an average account balance of $2,792.
In addition, a vast majority of these students’ academic pursuits have stalled (no access to aid or transcripts), or their economic situation has worsened a great deal (debt load, credit reporting).
Edelblute said MSU is taking a proactive approach with the new policy to prevent more life-crippling student debt.
“They (students) will not be allowed to make that same mistake, and they will not be allowed to incur student debt by coming here, because we won’t allow them to start before they have paid upfront or set up a payment plan,” Edelblute said.
Tyler McMurray, MSU Student Association president, said the university used many sets of focus groups in order to generate student feedback on the new policy. One of the main focus groups was comprised of SA senators, elected officials charged with the opportunity and responsibility to represent their constituents on the MSU campus.
McMurray also explained no matter how many test groups the policy goes through, students will still be wary of new policies, especially those which will affect their pocketbooks.
“It’s a change in money, and everyone cares about money, so when they first hear about it there is backlash, but there’s going to be backlash with any change,” McMurray said. “I think when people actually sit down and discuss the changes, they will understand.”
This up-front and or payment plan method is used by a majority of universities in the southeastern conference, along with many around the nation. Both Edelblute and McMurray explained this policy is necessary to stay consistent with other institutions.
“We spent a lot of time looking at our SEC institutions, as well as 12 peer institutions, and by and large, it is a common practice throughout the country,” Edelblute said.
However, McMurray did point out this new policy is a shift in the culture at MSU. She said the new policy might fill prospective students with trepidation as they look at the large sum of money.
“We call ourselves the peoples' university because it’s a land grant school. It is intended for anybody and everybody to attend college,” McMurray said. “There are a lot of students who come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds on all aspects of the scale, so for particular people who cannot afford college, it will definitely turn them away because it is such a large ‘lump’ sum of money at the beginning of college.”
Edelblute said the policy will have growing pains, like any form of change, but he and the university believe their proactive policy will help many students in the long run.
“When I have an opportunity to explain why we are doing it, the students overwhelmingly shake their heads and say, ‘you’re right we have to fix that,’” Edelblute said. “If we don’t, we are allowing students to harm themselves and that’s not what we want to see happen.”