do I have any recourse?
June 12, 2018 10:33 PM   Subscribe

I was forced to withdraw from a university class this past semester due to a dramatic change in my work schedule. Financial complications abound. Please help.

School is saying that since I withdrew 5 weeks into the term I am not entitled to a a tuition refund per their school policy.

That being said, before dropping the class I tried my best to see if I could transfer to a different class section. This process took about ten days due to having to visit my department head, then being referred to the dean of studies, then the administrator responsible for my particular program as a re-entry student, then the professor whose class I wanted to transfer to, who refused to let me into her class, forcing me to withdraw from the semester so as not to jeopardize my job/sole source of income. Had I not made a good faith effort to transfer to a different section, which is what the department head advised when my work schedule changed, I would have withdrawn earlier, prior to the 5 week cutoff, and gotten a discount.

I feel a bit like I am being punished for following the advice of the dept head to try to transfer classes which wasted my time.

I also feel a bit like I am being punished for my work schedule changing which was completely out of my control.

The tuition for the term is around $5K and change. That is a lot of money I have lost - at least for me. This is a situation that could easily happen with any of their re-entry students that work full time and my program consists 80% of re-entry students. It seems unfair.

Do I have any recourse here? Is there anyone on I can reach out to to appeal this? Losing $5K is a disaster for me. The only way I could have stayed in class would be to quit my job.

Any advice would be highly appreciated. Thanks.
posted by thereemix to Work & Money (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gotten a *reimbursement, not a discount. Second paragraph. Late night typing, wrong word.
posted by thereemix at 10:35 PM on June 12


Seems like it depends significantly on what type of institution, whether for or non-profit, and what the nature of their own financial situation might be.

You might consider a thoughtful letter to the president, financial/organizational leadership (Dean of Students?). Get a friend to review it first for typos and clarity. Remember to also be kind and appreciative, reference their values/mission statement if they have one. You could also send a copy to a regional news outlet, if there's one with a "7 on your side" type of program.

Good luck!
posted by quinoa at 10:45 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Non-profit university, fairly prestigious, located in Manhattan.
posted by thereemix at 10:50 PM on June 12


Just to help you understand your position, the university no doubts expects students to be familiar with the add/drop deadlines and to take them into account when making decisions. It is the not the fault of the department chair that it took you 10 days to find out you couldn't change sections. If you had kept on eye on the deadline, you could have made a decision to stop trying to change sections and drop the class the day before the deadline instead of after. It is not the fault of the university that your schedule changed. So, from their point of view, you are not being punished - you are just experiencing the natural consequences of waiting too long to drop a class despite a known deadline.

I still think it worth an appeal - just tone it down. If you don't know where to start, I would try the Office of the Student Ombudsman - their job is to help students navigate the system. If that doesn't work, try the Bursar or the President's Office. Don't go outside of the university until you have tried the internal channels first.
posted by metahawk at 11:47 PM on June 12 [26 favorites]


They're being dicks, but your recourse is probably just to switch to someone else's transfer program, of which there should be several in NYC, and to badmouth them at every opportunity.

You might appeal one more time, noting that the school can either have that semester's tuition or the next several semesters of tuition, but not both. The hard part will be finding the right person to make the appeal to. Certainly the department head has no power to waive anything, and the people in the financial services office are almost certainly not decision-makers. The dean of the relevant college or school might be, or might not be.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:28 AM on June 13


Approaching the university in a penitent fashion may be the way to go for practical reasons but don't forget that you're a $40,000 customer or $100,000 customer or whatever your degree will end up costing. The rules are definitely not meant to be fair: the basic financial model here is convincing teenagers—who aren't old enough to drink alcohol on their own cognizance—to mortgage the rest of their lives and hand all the money over to the institutions.
posted by XMLicious at 4:34 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I also feel a bit like I am being punished for my work schedule changing which was completely out of my control.

This is an absolute non-starter; do not use this argument.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:40 AM on June 13 [22 favorites]


I work at a university. I agree with you that it's unfair, but whether or not they are human about it really depends what kind of culture the admin of your university is experiencing at the moment. A few years ago it would have been easier in most places to possibly appeal to someone who would consider bending rules -- not easy, of course, just a little easier. Things are very bureaucratically rigid and corporate at many universities now, even non-profit prestigious ones. SO the best shot in my opinion is to ask the dept. head to write a letter to the admin supporting you and taking responsibility for advising you in a way you misunderstood. The problem is that are 90% going to say what metahawk says they will say. if the dept. head emphasizes how much you don't want to drop out, how well you are doing, and how this is your first time doing anything like this, you might have luck with a stern "OK this one time we will waive it." However when you approach the dept. chair do not act like they owe you or that it's not your fault bc of the lengthy goose chase. Take responsibility and just act like you now know you should have accounted for the deadline when following the suggestion but now you know, will not do anything like this again, and you are simply unable to pay, and so respectfully need them to help you. To be clear, I do believe it's unfair, this is just what I think is your best tack. luck.
posted by velveeta underground at 4:42 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]



I also feel a bit like I am being punished for my work schedule changing which was completely out of my control.


That's something to take up with your employer, not your university. You've prioritized your job over school, which may indeed be necessary for your life, but it's not the school's job to reimburse you for making that choice.

This is a situation that could easily happen with any of their re-entry students that work full time and my program consists 80% of re-entry students. It seems unfair.

Every single university has set-in-stone add/drop dates which accommodate some degree of "life happens." On the other side of that add-drop date are those of us who, at times, were wait-listed for courses or programs and were basically on hold until other people make their decisions.

Imagine how you would feel if you found out that the reason that you weren't allowed in the class was someone else decided to drop it seven weeks into the semester - that's what happens when people aren't made to make changes on deadlines for things. Class sizes may be somewhat malleable but not always to the degree to accommodate everyone.

It sounds like it took you ten days to have four calls/meetings which does not seem particularly expedient and at it sounds like at no point did anyone promise you anything - suggesting you inquire about transferring into things is not an agreement to transfer you into things.

I think you can appeal this and see where it goes, however it doesn't sound like anyone misled you about timelines or expectations and you will certainly have to explain why ten days passed in between these conversations and why that's someone else's fault other than yours - and even then, it may still be on you to manage your deadlines and to decide what the best path is for you which might've included stopping inquiring about transferring and dropping out to save the $$.
posted by notorious medium at 4:53 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


Hmm, I wouldn't bother with the chair anymore. I'd go to the Dean of Students in your department or school. I would not say that you needed to drop because of your work schedule. I would say that you had a very difficult time getting the chair and faculty to help you and you were trying to follow protocol and get advising and that their process took so long that you missed the deadline through no fault of your own.

Best of luck. I'm sorry. This is what happens when we treat students like customers.
posted by sockermom at 4:54 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


FWIW, I've served as a Director of Graduate Studies.

At most universities, various deans usually have the power to waive fees/extend deadlines, even retroactively. I'd approach the dean of studies who gave you the advice and see what he/she could do. Don't go in with an attitude of entitlement/seeking justice. Go in understanding that you're asking for a favor... explain that you're a good student who's caught in a bad situation that the dean can solve with his/her powers and that you'd be very appreciative.

If that doesn't work, try the dean of students, same approach.

Good luck!
posted by cgs06 at 5:02 AM on June 13 [9 favorites]


Yes, whatever course you take, drop the attitude that you are being punished or treated unfairly. These are not your parents. State the facts. Show you understand the rules. Ask if there's anything that can be done.
posted by Gnella at 5:33 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I work at a university in Manhattan, probably not yours, and Metahawk and velveeta underground are absolutely right. Drop/add dates are your responsibility to know and abide by (as well as registration dates and all the other academic calendar dates). I also work with students who often make the choice to prioritize their jobs over their studies. It sucks, but academic policies are policies, and the university has to uphold its academic standards.

(If your work is paying for your academic program, as you indicated in a previous question, why couldn't you have pushed back against the work schedule change? "Hey guys, this schedule change that you are proposing will cause you to lose a large part of your investment in my academic program, can't we solve the problem another way?")

There probably is a person who oversees tuition appeals. At my university, that person is one of the Assistant Registrars. I have had one student be successful in her appeal, based on my letter of support that a string of events kind of screwed her over. But you *have* to go in with Gnella's approach. You are not asking for justice; you are asking for clemency. I wish you luck.
posted by Liesl at 6:18 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


At most universities, various deans usually have the power to waive fees/extend deadlines, even retroactively. I'd approach the dean of studies who gave you the advice and see what he/she could do. Don't go in with an attitude of entitlement/seeking justice. Go in understanding that you're asking for a favor... explain that you're a good student who's caught in a bad situation that the dean can solve with his/her powers and that you'd be very appreciative.

This, exactly. Also, if you have any connections to, eg, a department secretary, this is a great time to tell your story and ask their advice - sometimes people without formal power can still advocate for you. When I was in this role, I absolutely did advocate for individual students when they shared problems with me.

I think this is unfair in a structural way - it's really stupid that people like you are caught between a rock and a hard place, and that there is no one with power who can really advocate for you, like some kind of pan-institution grad students' league or something. You're absolutely right that this situation serves no one's interests in the grand scheme of things, even though there are university budgetary reasons for it.

If this were me, I would try to shift my feelings of unfairness to "this is structurally unfair" rather than "I am personally individually being wronged by these people" - they have people leaning on them to follow university budgetary practices (god how I know that) even when it goes against the goals and spirit of the program.

As others say, don't bring up unfairness - just talk about how you want to continue, you did your best to resolve the problem in time and you really can't face a $5000 loss, and ask them to help you.
posted by Frowner at 6:18 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Also, when dealing with universities where you have to see ten million people before X can happen, be prepared to push hard or cut your losses promptly. This is one of the ways that universities could IMO improve transparency and relations with students - very often what happens is that there are a lot of offices involved, they don't all know each others' process, the student in all innocence doesn't push....and they miss a deadline. If this happens again, tell people directly that this all needs to happen ASAP, make multiple calls, etc. There is almost always a way to turn this kind of thing around in a couple of days if everyone involved makes the effort. Indeed, that's what I would have done had a student come to me in your situation.

On a side note, this is part of what happens as universities cut front office staff - not only are there fewer people to perform all these fiddly soft-skills tasks, but there are fewer people literally at the front desk to hear your story and make the calls.
posted by Frowner at 6:24 AM on June 13 [6 favorites]


1. If at all possible, I would take it up with work, and you might have done that from the start ("I'm happy to change my schedule, but it is going to cost me $5000 to drop this class, can the company pay for me to re-enroll next semester?"). You might not get very far, but it is worth asking.

2. Fairness is irrelevant in this situation. Many people have said that you should certainly continue to appeal, but come at it from a perspective of asking for a favor rather than demanding justice. That is 100% accurate. Even if you don't believe it, this is your most effective approach.

3. I would include a fairly detailed timeline in whatever letter/discussion you have. I do think it potentially a compelling argument that you began the process before the deadline, assuming that delays on the University's part were a large portion of that 10 days. Something like "I talked to Department Head So and So on May 15th, who referred me to Dean Something on May 18th. On May 21st they suggested I talk to Professor X, who I emailed later that day. Unfortunately, on May 25th, the response was that it would be impossible to join the other section." If the 10 days were because you were too busy to set up appointments or send emails, this argument is less persuasive, but you should still point out that your initial contact regarding dropping the class happened before the deadline.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:33 AM on June 13


This process took about ten days due to having to visit my department head, then being referred to the dean of studies, then the administrator responsible for my particular program as a re-entry student, then

Run of the mill university professor here. These three people should all have been aware of the deadline, and any of them who you talked to before the deadline should have mentioned it or taken it into account in their advice to you. Bureaucratically speaking, you are indeed asking for a favor or special exception at this point in having the late withdrawal fees waived. But, personally, I think you have a reasonable argument or case for this. Also, you have leverage from a public relations perspective. However, university faculty typically have no HR training and may have egos to navigate, so, politically speaking, it is likely helpful for your long term interactions with the program to take a measured, "just the facts" tone when bringing this up with the department head you first talked to or academic administrators. That is, I don't think you should grovel or be penitent, but avoiding having faculty feel on the defensive will likely be helpful for you. I want to acknowledge that it's shitty that the best advice here involves managing the feelings of people who have greater power than you in this institution, however, in what is undoubtedly quite a stressful situation for you.

There are two parallel chains of administrators you can work your way up through talking with about this. The department head, relevant dean, provosts if you have them above deans, then VP Academic are the academic administrators overseeing academic advising. You can talk to anyone at any point in this chain, but, again, politically speaking I suggest at least starting with the department head, then working your way up step by step. Depending on your university, the person with the actual power to refund your fees will be somewhere in this chain of administrators, at the dean level or above. But working your way up the chain giving people you've talked to before a chance to help rectify the situation would be polite.

Parallel to that is what might be called student life or something similar - depending on your school, there may be one or more dean of students, maybe one specifically responsible for students in your program or position. Or there may be a director of student life or residence life who is kind of on the same level as an academic dean (so, not a VP yet but still heading up some part of the bureaucracy) but with a different title. This person is responsible for student satisfaction and for sorting out when other life stuff conflicts with academic stuff. They work for the university, not for you, but hopefully due to their job and more training in dealing with various life issues that crop up for students, ideally they will be more sympathetic and you should not have to worry about managing their emotions - they deal with students having various different types of upset reactions all the time. They also may be more aware of the public relations implications of your situation for the college or university. They will not directly have the power to refund your fees, but should be able to advocate for you within the bureaucracy. Note that these departments vary a lot more between universities than the academic side of things, so some or all of this may not be fully accurate for your institution.

Good luck!
posted by eviemath at 6:51 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


If they turn you down and you really think this is happening to a number of similarly situated students on a systemic basis, I might talk to an education lawyer. But let them shut the door on informal resolution first.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:58 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I'm going to contradict eviemath... Speaking as someone who had to do a fair amount to petitioning, course rearrangement, and meek favor seeking over a long student career: never trust that faculty are authorities on things like deadlines and requirements for anything beyond their own course! They are often oblivious or wrong about these things.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:28 AM on June 13


I'm very sympathetic, but: avoid mentioning the PR angle. No one at *cough*YU is going to be worried about blowback over a student having to pay tuition because they failed to meet a known deadline to withdraw. The local media's not going to care, either. I think you stand a halfway chance with a letter to the dean, but it has to be "I tried to follow the advice given to me in good faith to cope with an unforeseeable change in circumstances, but ran into this problem," not "you guys are penalizing me for being employed." I also think you should try to enlist your department head on your behalf--again, not in the sense of "this is your fault," but "I did what you suggested and unfortunately time ran out to withdraw. I can't afford to lose five thousand dollars over this...is there anything you can do?"
posted by praemunire at 8:50 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


(By the way, when asking for help, I would be explicit about the cost. Professors and even some admins may be oblivious to the actual amount of these costs on a day-to-day basis, but I think most of them can get their heads around five grand being a lot for most people.)
posted by praemunire at 10:42 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


qxntpqbbbqxl, while true of faculty in general, OP was talking to three administrator-level people first, who should be mindful of such deadlines. Obviously there weren't, in this situation, but they should have been.
posted by eviemath at 11:12 AM on June 13


One thing the school should arguably not be doing (if it is, and I don't know) is running a budget that relies on this happening to a significant number of students, statistically.

The school winds up with one unlucky, and arguably disorganized etc. student's $5K? They should give it back, but no one's likely to get too upset about it, except the one student and maybe their sympathetic advisors.

This reliably happens to twenty plus kids a term? Now the school's pocketing a cool $100K+, per term. Possibly, of DOE-backed loan money.

But education law is certainly a specialty and this might be totally out of the box.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:41 AM on June 14


Just to help you understand your position, the university no doubts expects students to be familiar with the add/drop deadlines and to take them into account when making decisions.

Yeah, this. My alma mater has a schedule of refunds and you can only get so much money back the longer you wait to drop out and I am guessing that five weeks in you hit the 0 refund time. I have heard staff lecture students that during that time, you were using university resources (which you're not gonna be able to prove you didn't) and that's why you can't get all your money back. As I recall, you could only get a 100% back refund on the first day of classes and any day after that you'd get the resources lecture. Also remember that you are one of hordes of people who have the same sort of thing going on all the time and while this is fresh and new to you, it's so not new to the staff to hear this stuff.

I would tell you to get as much documentation for your case as you can (maybe a letter of support from the dept head that thought you could transfer, if they are willing to say what happened?, get a letter from your job about the new requirements) and petition because I don't think it'll hurt to try, but I would have pretty low expectations about your getting all of your $5k back, or even most of it back under the circumstances. There is probably some financial office that handles appeals of this nature that you can submit it to, I don't know your school so I wouldn't know where to point you at specifically. You should probably ask at the registrar's office since I think at least some of them do financial appeal stuff.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:14 PM on June 15


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