Top 5 reasons for ACC’s new tuition payment structure

Starting with the spring 2020 semester, Austin Community College (ACC) students have a new tuition payment structure.

Since the announcement went out in October, the college has been using various methods to communicate to students and staff to make sure that everyone is aware and prepared for the Monday, January 6, 2020, first payment deadline. After that date, students are expected to pay or set up a payment plan the same day they register for classes, known as same day pay.

The college made the decision to change the tuition payment structure earlier this year after internal discussions and talks with other community colleges who have implemented a similar change. Below are five of the top reasons ACC switched to the new tuition payment structure.

1. Provides clarity, predictability, and additional time for students to pay

In the past, registration started very early, several months before classes actually began, and students were given a deadline soon after they registered to pay. If they didn't meet it, they were deregistered and had to go through the process all over again. Some students would go through as many as four cycles if they were unable to pay.

The new system gives students more time to plan to either get the money or to set up a payment plan, and there is just a single deadline to remember.

"The new payment deadline is closer to the time they actually begin class so that they're not put out in terms of having to make the payment way before class begins," says Dr. Charles Cook, provost/executive vice president of Academic Affairs. "Think about it — If you want to buy something, would you want to pay for it three months in advance or wait until you have to?"

2. Ends the registration/deregistration cycle for thousands of students

Historically, the college deregistered more than 5,000 students who were unable to meet the first payment deadline. "It was a lot of work for both the students that had to scramble to re-enroll and for our staff," says Cook.

The college expects that number to drop to possibly a few hundred students under the new tuition payment structure based on peer college data.

3. Our peer colleges have seen success

ACC is one of 20 community colleges in the U.S. on the board of the League for Innovation. The tuition payment process is a topic of discussion among the colleges, many of whom have gravitated towards this type of system and have found it to be better serving for both their students and staff.

"They say it provides a more effective and efficient type of registration, and that students actually take more ownership in terms of either planning for financial aid or setting up a payment plan," says Cook.

Locally, several large Texas colleges have successfully implemented similar day-of-registration payment deadlines as well.

"Houston Community College, Tarrant County College, and the Alamo Colleges all require same day pay at least two weeks prior to the start of the school year. They offer payment plans, like ACC, to give students options for managing their finances and planning ahead for their tuition and fees." says Dr. Melissa Curtis, Enrollment Management associate vice president.

4. Aligns with ACC's Guided Pathways efforts

"It's similar to everything that we've been doing with Guided Pathways, taking a look at how we operate and our processes and being more proactive instead of reactive to do better for our students. Doing multiple deregistrations is very reactive and, in the old model, many students ended up waiting until the end to pay anyway," says Dr. Guillermo 'Willie' Martinez, interim vice president of Student Affairs.

This model requires staff to be much more proactive with outreach efforts, informing students about payment plans, financial aid, and different money management workshops offered.

5. Nothing is set in stone; it is an iterative process

"As with everything we do, we are going to examine it and keep track of students' reactions. Nothing will be written in stone, so if things go wrong we'll want to correct them for the future. If we need to make further changes in terms of dates, we will do that. It's about constantly checking for a better way to do things and, if not, we need to keep experimenting to find the best way," says Cook.

To learn more about the new tuition deadline payment structure, click here.