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College Backs Off on Penalty for Late Fees

At Cal State Fullerton, those who failed to cover the sudden increase brought on by the budget crunch are allowed to attend class.

August 15, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

Scrambling to collect a sudden 30% fee increase weeks before classes begin, Cal State Fullerton kicked out more than 900 students who had hadn't paid the $230 on time -- threatening the graduation of some seniors.

But after angry calls from students and parents, many of whom had paid their fees earlier and knew nothing about the increase, university officials are allowing the students into class.

"Maybe we could have handled it differently," said Ephraim Smith, Cal State Fullerton's vice president for academic affairs. Fullerton's problem shows how the 23 Cal State campuses had to struggle to collect a fee increase -- made necessary by the state's fiscal crisis -- that occurred after some students had already paid their bills. The increase came so suddenly, university officials say, that many campuses had no time to mail out notices and were forced to rely on the Internet and telephone calls to get out the word.

"We sent the students an e-mail message" that many may not have received, Smith said. "We probably should have sent them by regular mail."

At Cal State San Marcos, students who don't pay by 5 p.m. today will be "disenrolled." The deadline has been extended from Aug. 6. Students who don't pay will still be able to enroll Sept. 2, when school starts, but there is no guarantee their classes will be open, said Paige Jennings, a campus spokeswoman.

She said students were sent a postcard and an e-mail and that the deadline was posted on the university's Web site.

Most other Cal State campuses, however, are allowing students who paid the original fee but not the increase to continue with classes, as long as they pay by the next term.

At the Northridge and Long Beach campuses, the fee increase isn't due until Sept. 30. Students who don't pay their bills by the deadline can continue attending classes. But they will not be allowed to enroll for the spring semester until they pay their balance.

Cal State San Bernardino, on the quarter system, is using the same tactic, not allowing students with unpaid bills to enroll in the winter quarter.

Some campuses, such as Cal State L.A., didn't begin registration until after the trustees had increased the student fees, so there is no need for a supplemental bill, said school spokeswoman Carol Selkin.

Because of spending cuts, Cal State trustees on July 16 approved the fee increase, increasing the average undergraduate cost to $2,544.

By that time, Cal State Fullerton already had registered about 19,000 students, said Paula Selleck, a campus spokeswoman.

She said the campus expects that about 80% of the 904 students who were told they could not attend classes will have paid the $230 and been reenrolled by the end of Thursday. The $25 late fee also has been waived.

The others will be sent letters telling them to pay, and they will be eligible to register, she said.

All seniors graduating in January will be automatically enrolled, Selleck said. "The top priority for the university is giving special assistance to graduating seniors," Selleck said.

The deadline for graduating seniors to pay is Aug. 25, the first day of classes. Others must pay when they register, Selleck said. Those students who originally were booted still may not get the classes they signed up for. Once they were taken off the rolls, other students filled their seats in many classes. Seats will be added in some classes, but in others, such as a biology lab, space may not exist.

Selleck said deans will help students find classes that fill similar academic requirements.

It is normal at all colleges and universities for some students not to pay their bills and to drop out and for others to drop classes. What is unusual in this situation is that students have to pay a second bill after registering for classes.

Cal State Fullerton, with about 32,000 students, has been the fastest-growing Cal State campus for several years, putting classroom space at a premium.

Selleck said that Cal State Fullerton twice notified those 19,000 students who already had registered that they owed money, once using an automated phone system and a second time through e-mail, beginning July 18. She said officials thought this was a quicker means of notification than sending a letter.

They were told that if they still owed money they would be dropped from classes Aug. 5.

"What we found in the days that followed," Selleck said, "was that some students slipped through the net."

As we are learning students had not gotten the message, we presume there are others who haven't gotten the message."

Students were not checking e-mail or the phone message wasn't passed on to them.

For those remaining booted students who have not contacted the university, Cal State Fullerton is reverting to regular mail.

"A letter will go out to them," Selleck said. "Please pay the additional fee."

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