The University of Montana has changed its deferred tuition payment plan to benefit students, administrators say.
But some students may not be convinced.
Students apply to use the university's payment plan, which allows them to spread the payment of tuition and fees throughout the semester instead of paying the entire cost upfront. UM, in turn, asks for references and looks at the student's ability to pay, but doesn't perform a credit check.
The changes came about as a way to increase student retention by only allowing students in good academic standing and good financial standing to use the program.
Students can fall into financial turmoil more quickly if they use the deferred payment plan because it's flexible, said Bob Duringer, vice president for administration and finance. Students don't have to pay back student loans until after graduation. Fall $200 behind on payments to UM and you are not allowed to register for classes the following semester.
"We're trying to be better mentors to students and not let them get into situations that they can't dig themselves out of," Duringer said.
However, some students used the service to avoid having to take out loans. The plan allowed them a way to earn money throughout the semester - but not accrue interest on student loans - and still pay off the costs of their education.
Now, however, the changes require students to exhaust all financial aid options before entering the deferred payment plan.
"We're not the bank of Montana and we don't have the resources to finance that type of program," said Mark Pullium, director of business services at UM. "It's actual cash that we have to forego that we have to pay our bills with."
Duringer added, "If we get millions of dollars tied in up in zero interest loans, then we are fiducially not doing the right thing."
No one could say for certain how much money the change will save UM.
The number of students who use the program has decreased over the years as tuition has climbed and more financial aid has become available, Pullium said. Fewer students can work to pay for their education. Most need to use financial aid, and can do so more easily.
During the spring 2010 semester, about 650 students used the UM deferred payment plan, Pullium said.
Fifty-seven students enrolled in the payment plan during the fall 2009 semester dropped out of school owing the university money. The program was adopted in 1999 to help students who could not otherwise obtain financing for school.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at email@example.com.