Alot has changed in the way that students pay their tuition and student fees.
A new Cash Services policy states that students can only use their credit cards to pay fees online, unless of course, they use Visa, which is no longer accepted by Cash Services. If students want to use their credit cards at all, they are charged a 2.9 percent processing fee, or about $50 for the average student. This is to help offset what the university describes as unacceptably high merchant fees charged by credit card companies to the tune of $900,000 annually.
But something else has changed, too; students simply are not paying their fees.
On Aug. 17, 1,431 students were disenrolled from their classes because of non-payment. That is a 65 percent spike from last year, when 865 students were disenrolled. According to the university controller, this year’s figure cost CSUN $2 million in revenue if the disenrolled students decide not to come back.
Obviously, something went wrong. The new processing fees on credit card usage have likely changed student behavior, but it is unclear if that change contributed to non-payment, especially in such high numbers.
Instead, it was likely poor communication is the primary cause of this recent surge.
When e-mail was made the official form of communication in Fall 2004, it seemed to be a great idea. Notifications of key deadlines and missing fees could be sent with the click of a mouse, eliminating needless paperwork and costly human resources. It was cost-effective and undoubtedly standardized.
As long as students checked their e-mail addresses regularly or forwarded messages to personal accounts, things would work great. But that did not happen.
Anyone who has ever spoken with a student knows that many have never accessed their CSUN e-mail accounts. When the Daily Sundial tried to get its staff writers to sign up for e-mail accounts, there was mass confusion. Even those students who have signed up for a CSUN account have trouble figuring out which messages get sent to their personal addresses and which get sent to their CSUN account, as different parts of the university – Admissions and Records and the Matador Involvement Center, for example – have access to different e-mail addresses.
Financial aid notification, sent only through e-mail as part of the paperless transition, seemed to be insufficient this semester, according to students who had no idea that they were missing paperwork or, worse yet, their financial aid awards altogether. E-mail from Cash Services also seems hard to track down, especially the one that says that credit cards will no longer be accepted in the Student Services Building. It’s clear from student reaction to that change that it was a bit of a secret from the fee-paying public.
It is important to keep in mind the new golden rule: E-mail is a form of notification, not a form of communication. This is evidenced by the fact that when the university actually needed to “communicate” with students who had not paid, they tried other methods, like phone calls from actual human beings. And it worked.
Perhaps this semester, with all the changes at Cash Services and the fact that this e-mail-only communication system is still in its early stages, more communication, and less notification, is needed. Students need to be communicated with, so we know how to sign up for a CSUN e-mail account, why it’s important, and what happens if we don’t. Until that happens, all the e-mail in the world is going to be irrelevant.
Of course, the non-paying students are also to blame. A lot of students could have done more to get down to campus and figure out why they had not received a financial aid award yet, or why they were getting panicked phone calls from the university. In a perfect world, students would have adapted, but CSUN is not a perfect world.
In the future, when new applicants’ e-mail addresses are linked into the system automatically, this might not be a problem. But that’s the future. What about now?