WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 2/29/16
As a college student, I can’t remember a time I didn’t have a hold on my account due to an outstanding tuition balance. At the beginning of every semester, I was able to finally pay my remaining balance because my parents or I had saved up enough money while working over the previous summer or winter break. Those first two weeks of every semester were always hectic for me because the classes I had planned on taking were already filled and I was left not only scrambling to find back up courses that would fulfill my requirements and accommodate my multiple work schedules, but asking professors for permission to register for their already closed classes. Still, I knew I couldn’t move on to the next semester until I paid that bill.
These are detailed moments of my student career that I had almost forgotten and haven’t revisited in a while. As I write this I remember the angst I felt because I had this balance hanging over my head; the stress my parents felt as they could barely pay their own bills; and the anger and sometimes jealousy I felt towards my roommates who didn’t have to work or weren’t “allowed” to work because academics was their family’s number one priority.
But life goes on. And indeed it has gone well for me. I not only received my Bachelor’s and Master’s from a reputable institution but I consider myself an established and successful university professional. Still, I’m reminded of the days of financial insecurity and the days that it led to food insecurity. There were days when I did not know where my next meal would come from. I always had hope and faith that I would run into friends that had extra meals to swipe for me or that I would run into an upper-classmate that lived off-campus and would invite me over for dinner. Or I could stretch the $40 my parents would send me every now and then by purchasing cheap, fast food. I never went to sleep hungry. Ever. I was lucky.
So imagine my surprise when I see this notice when purchasing coffee in the Adams State University (ASU) Student Union Building (SUB). There was a pile next to each register:
I ignored it at first because I didn’t know what it was. I asked the cashier and she briefly explained and then it sunk in exactly what it was. I went to a Sodexo staff member and asked where it had come from. She informed me that it came from Housing. I asked her how many she and her staff had distributed. She said “quite a few.”
It wasn’t until I got back to my office that the message and ramifications of this notice sunk in. It wasn’t until I put myself back into a student’s shoes that the stress and anxiety over being a broke college student came rushing back. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if I had attempted to purchase FOOD on campus and was not allowed to because of the constant hold on my account. What would I have done? What would you do?
Putting into an “adult” perspective: imagine yourself at the grocery check-out, with all your groceries bagged and ready to go and your payment method is declined. Regardless of your financial situation, I think we can all agree on how that situation would make us feel.
Nearly 1 in 7 Coloradans struggle with hunger (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2012-2014 average in Household Food Security in the United States in 2014, September 2015) And in the San Luis Valley the poverty rate is approximately 25%, almost double the state’s average. (source)
Food insecurity is defined as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” How can ASU call itself a community-serving institution and one that puts students first when this is policy? How is this “putting our students first,” when we are putting yet another hurdle in front of them to be successful in college?
I am not saying that the institution does not have an obligation or right to collect tuition owed. Nor am I relieving students of their responsibility to pay an overdue account. But there has got to be a better way! Last semester students were handed their advising PINS as a way to increase enrollment (and revenue). Great. Now we are punishing them for registering for those classes and not paying their bills. Great.
What sort of message are we sending our students when we threaten their food funds in order to receive tuition payment? And lastly, what sort of picture does this paint of ASU’s financial situation when we are so desperate for tuition payments that we threaten our students’ food funds in order to increase our revenue?
If you’re looking to be creative, make positive policy change to help increase student retention – this is not the way to do it.