University accidentally penalizes students for dropping courses

The University has overcharged some students for dropped classes due to deficiencies in its registration and accounting software, student accounts officials said Wednesday.

When a student drops a course and adds one with the same number of credits, students are supposed to receive no additional charge. Banner software malfunctioned and did not recognize this stipulation, said Bob Kershner, director of Student Accounts Services. Because of the flaw, students and parents have contacted the Student Accounts office demanding the charges be removed.

“There’s some timing differences the software isn’t set up to deal with,” he said of the error occurring when a course is dropped and another added at different times, which frequently occurs during the two-week add/drop period that follows the first day of classes.

When one course is replaced by a course of equal credits – but not done simultaneously, such as on a carbon-copy registration transaction form – the Banner system has mistakenly let nonrefundable tuition charges remain on students’ accounts, Kershner said.

“Some students have added a class one day, and dropped a class a different day,” Kershner wrote in an e-mail. “The Banner software just sees that they dropped a class and imposes the nonrefundable tuition and nonrefundable fee.”

His staff has manually changed accounts after receiving complaints. He added that when students change the number of credits they originally registered for, they won’t receive a full reimbursement for the dropped course.

Kershner wouldn’t comment on the number of students assessed nonrefundable tuition or the amount of money the University has overcharged. Since there is no tracking system to monitor phone call and walk-in complaints, the office doesn’t know how many corrections its staff has made this year, said technical support specialist Sule Williams.

Some students checking their account balance on the Banner system, at http://banweb.gwu.edu, were surprised to find “nonrefundable tuition – drop” charges for classes they already replaced with other classes. Many criticized the University for charging what they called a “fee” for dropping classes.

“You already pay a lot of money for tuition,” said senior Eman Nooruddin, who said she was mistakenly billed $2,000. “It’s not necessary.”

“Seats in classrooms are finite,” Kershner wrote. “The refund policy is there to discourage students from signing up for classes they do not intend to complete, and shutting out other students that would like to take the class.”

Almost all the students approached for this story were unaware of the refund policy and blamed the University for inadequately articulating it to the student body.

“They didn’t even notify me, I found out myself online,” sophomore Ashley Keiser said. “If they are going to do that … they need to publicize it more.”

Keiser said she replaced a four-credit Spanish class with a three-credit Honors class on the second day of classes and was subsequently charged more than $400. After two weeks of meetings, the Students Accounts office removed the charge.

The Student Accounts office is also unsure of when the University will update the Banner, or GWeb Information, system to eliminate its built-in technical defects.

Both Kershner and Williams said there are serious problems with the system that have yet to be adequately addressed.

The nonrefundable tuition charge is a percentage of a course’s tuition the University keeps after the class is dropped.

According to the University Bulletin, GW retains 20 percent of the roughly $1,000-per-credit-hour tuition when a class is dropped by the end of the first week of school; 40 percent by the end of the second week; 60 percent by the end of the third week; 75 percent by the end of the fourth week; and the full amount after the fourth week. The University also keeps Student Association and lab fees, following this schedule.

Junior Christine Burke said she added and dropped courses, keeping the same number of credit hours, in the first week of school. A few days later she noticed a $1,600 charge on Banner for the classes she dropped.

“I wasn’t informed of the drop charge before then,” Burke said. “(So) I sent an e-mail, and two days later I received an e-mail saying I wasn’t going to be charged for it.”

Kershner said the policy has been on the books for more than two decades. He said he found the refund schedule in the 1983-1984 University Bulletin, the oldest one he had on file.

-Alison Maassen contributed to this report.

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