SUNY Broome Offers Program To Forgive Tuition

04.08.14 | Sarah Harnisch

Former SUNY Broome Community College students with outstanding debts to the school will be able to pay a portion of what they owe and return to school under a new amnesty program from the college.

The one-time only tuition amnesty program will allow students with outstanding debt prior to the fall 2011 semester to pay off half of what they owe. The students would then be eligible to return to the school with a clean slate to complete a degree. The students would be responsible for full tuition payments for new classes. The program only covers debt students owe to the college and not debt owed from defaulting on government or other private loans or financial aid.

“Like most colleges, you’re not able to come back until you pay your debt,” said Regina Losinger, vice president for administration and financial affairs at SUNY Broome. “It’s great for these former students.”

Former students interested in the program, which is only planned to be held once, can sign up online through April 18. Students can pay what they owe in a lump sum or spread it out over three months. Students who enroll by April 18 would be eligible to begin taking classes again in the fall. Students in the amnesty program will be expected to complete a financial literacy course before returning to the school.

“We don’t want them to repeat their past experiences,” said Jeanette Tillotson, an associate vice-president and controller.

SUNY Broome officials got the idea from another community college in the Midwest that ran a similar program. That college, which Losinger said is larger than SUNY Broome, had about 65 students take advantage of the program. Officials at SUNY Broome are expecting a smaller number, between 25 and 50 students.

Colleges officials said there are two normal situations when a student will default on their payments to the college.

In the first, the student didn’t attend long enough into the semester to be allowed to keep their federal financial aid award. In this case, the tuition then becomes payable by the student, Losinger said.

The second scenario occurs when a student who isn’t eligible for financial aid, or is eligible for financial aid loans but has decided not to take out student loans, signs a promissory not to pay the college the money directly. Some do not pay what is due, Losinger said.

The college tries to collect from the students what is owed, then sends it to a collection agency, gets approval from the Board of Trustees to write it off as bad student debt. Once that happens, a hold is placed on the student’s account that keeps them from registering for future classes and getting transcripts until they take care of their debt.

“We make every effort to get our students to pay what they owe on a timely basis before it goes to collection, because once it goes there, it becomes even more costly to pay it off,” Losinger said.

The average student who defaults owes $800 and more than 6,000 students have defaulted payment to SUNY Broome, Losinger said.

Almost 55 percent of SUNY Broome graduates carry student loan debt when they graduate, according to numbers provided by SUNY Broome. In general, the average SUNY Broome student takes on just under $6,000 in student loans, through a mix of sources. Approximately 45 percent of the total aid awarded to SUNY Broome students is in the form of loans.