Student debt becomes new threat to City College of San Francisco enrollment

Beth LaBergeThe City College  Chinatown/North Beach Campus at 808 Kearney St on Nov. 7

Beth LaBergeThe City College Chinatown/North Beach Campus at 808 Kearney St on Nov. 7

A third of City College of San Francisco’s current paying students will be barred from enrolling in spring classes unless they pay their debts to the school, further reducing a student body already in decline after the July accreditation-loss announcement.

Starting Nov. 12, students with unpaid fees will be unable to sign up for classes for the following semester, according to Jennifer Aries, a CCSF spokeswoman.

“We have notified all currently enrolled students, by email, that for spring 2014 we will be dropping students for nonpayment of fees,” Aries wrote in an email to The San Francisco Examiner. “As we move closer to registration, we will have a ‘drop’ schedule for them so they can see the day they register, and the day they will be dropped if fees are not paid.”

About 9,000 current students enrolled in for-credit classes owe the college roughly $5 million. Another 18,120 former students owe $4.6 million going back to 1998.

Most current and former students owe around $200, said Aries, but the highest single debt is $2,822.

Payments can only be made with a debit or credit card to the company contracted with CCSF, which is student loan servicer Nelnet Business Solutions, Aries said.

The school’s actions, according to current and former student leaders, are too harsh.

“I’m concerned students will find themselves in a spiral of fees and unclear guidelines,” student Trustee Shanell Williams said. She added that the plan will only be another burden for students and will further hurt enrollment.

Former student Trustee William Walker, who voted against the plan, has no problem with making students pay their debts, but questioned the process.

“I don’t agree with having a company that essentially is a creditor coming after students when they can’t make payments,” he said of Nelnet.

What’s more, added Walker, CCSF has done a poor job in the past of informing students when they must pay for classes and now wants them to pay all their debts at once.

In May, the now-powerless board of trustees — Special Trustee Robert Agrella was given near-total power in July — voted on a contract to hand over the collection of student fees to Nelnet as part of CCSF’s efforts to get its finances in order. Starting in the spring, students will be able to finance their fees over a six- to 12-month period through Nelnet by paying the company $18. If that debt is not made whole by that time, the student will be sent to collections. At the end of each semester, all debts must be paid in full in order to register for the following semester.

As of Oct. 9, there were 39 students in an “amnesty program” run by Nelnet set up for former students and the college has collected more than $8,700.

In October 2012, the board of trustees was told that its debt collection system was flawed.

“The current policy for collection of student fees calls for students to pay their fees at the time of registration. Based on board direction a number of years ago this policy has not been enforced,” according to the board’s agenda. At that time, CCSF had $8.5 million in uncollected fees and wrote off roughly $400,000 in uncollected fees every year.

The plan now being rolled out will bring in money, but could impact re-enrollment.

In late July, CCSF enrollment was down nearly 15 percent from the previous year. And the college had already lost 9,000 students from 2010 to 2012.

That same month, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced that CCSF would lose its accreditation unless it transformed itself into a viable institution. And unless officials can successfully appeal the decision by next July, CCSF will lose accreditation and effectively close.

Deadline

CCSF students who do not pay up by Nov. 12 will not be able to enroll in spring courses.

9,000 Current students impacted

18,120 Former students impacted

$5M Debt owed by current students

$4.6M Debt owed by former students

$3.7M Student debt written off since 1998

$2,822 Highest individual debt

$18 Payment plan fee per semester

6 to 12 Months of repayment timeline before collections begin

85K Annual average enrollment

27,400 Fall 2013 credit enrollment

30,498 Fall 2013 noncredit enrollment

Sources: CCSF, Nelnet Business Solutions

NOTE: Enrollment numbers and debt owed fluctuate from day to dayaccreditationBay Area NewsCCSFCity College of San Franciscoeducation

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