General Question

Haleth's avatar

Do I have any recourse?

Asked by Haleth (19538points) August 13th, 2016

Last fall I got my act together and enrolled in community college. I work long hours as a retail manager, but I had a study plan that would work with my schedule.

A few weeks into my semester, my grandmother was hospitalized for several weeks. I spent all my off time driving to another state to pick up a handicapped relative and drive her to the hospital. My workplace guilt tripped me every time I took time off, so I ended up only taking two or three hours off once or twice. My family also guilted me about the fact that I couldn’t take more time off work. With all this stress, I came down with the flu, and then my grandmother died, and then the holiday season started and I worked 6–7 days a week through November and December.

I withdrew from my classes, got through the holiday season, and later that winter went back to the community college to ask if there was anything I could do to enroll again. When you withdraw after a certain date, it counts as an automatic fail. This made my GPA too low to keep my financial aid.

It took a while, but I learned of a debt cancellation policy that the school has if you have a death in the family or other emergency. I filled out the application and sent them my grandmother’s death certificate and waited for an answer.

After you have been out of class for a certain amount of time, student loans come due. That happened while I was waiting for an answer from the college. If you have an outstanding debt with the college, you can’t attend classes there until it’s a zero balance.

In the spring the college finally answered that they can’t cancel the debt because I missed the paperwork deadline. I filed an appeal and explained why I missed the deadline (holiday season retail management, illness, making my grandmother’s funeral arrangements). It took a long time to get an answer back but they denied the appeal for the same reason.

The amount of money in question is $1200. It’s not insurmountable but I don’t just have $1200 lying around. I was really upset because it seemed like paying it back would take me at least six months, which was even more time that I wouldn’t be in school. I asked a lot of different people up there if I could have a payment plan and attend classes while paying regularly, no luck.

More recently, I got approved for a credit card that is enough to cover the $1200. I still don’t have financial aid, but theoretically I could just pay the balance on the credit card, pay for classes myself with cash, and go back in the fall. (And then once I raise my GPA, maybe requalify for financial aid.)

I’m wondering if I should just do that, or continue to pursue this issue. It seems like the school’s bureaucracy itself is really hindering my efforts to get enrolled. I’m pretty good at asking lots of questions, sleuthing around, and advocating for myself, but this whole ordeal has been really discouraging and I’m ready to give up.

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12 Answers

Coloma's avatar

Unfortunately they have denied you absolution twice, sooo, it seems that your only recourse is to pay off the debt with your CC and go back and raise your GPA again. it sucks, but sounds like, short of having a serious accident or some extreme personal illness/injury, their appeal process is pretty hardcore, few acceptable excuses for discharge of debt. The only good news is you will be creating better credit rating/history as long as you make sure you make your payments on time.

Judi's avatar

Can you write alter to your elected Community College board representative? It’s a last ditch effort but it couldn’t hurt.

johnpowell's avatar

I had this happen to me. I failed a statistics class and that was 5 credits and I was only taking 12 twelve credits at the time so it dropped me down below the normal stage of probation (8 credits) and in a single go I lost financial aid. But I just had to pay for a single 12 credit term myself to have it turned back on.

And yeah, when you appeal you will be cool if your kidney failed. You could have probably pulled it off if you said the you loved your grandma so much that you slipped into depression and were unable to attend classes with all the tears. But you had to deal with catering isn’t a excuse they will accept.

janbb's avatar

Do you have a relationship with a counselor there? They might go to bat for you. Otherwise, it seems like the school is fairly resolute. These are hard times for community colleges so they may be particularly rigid.

Check your pms for a suggestion.

Love_my_doggie's avatar

NoVa? If yes, maybe one of our local politicians could go to bat for you. I have an idea that I’m PM to you.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Another person to look for is your ombudsman or student representative (at whatever level you’re at). Often these people will know if there are loopholes that fit your situation, and they’ll be discreet.

CWOTUS's avatar

First and most importantly, let me say how sorry I am for the loss of your grandmother. Full stop. In addition, it’s clear that you’ve had a rough time and travail both “because of” and “related to” that.

I hope – though I don’t see it in the posted description of the issue – that you have at least learned one lesson from all of this, a lesson which is certainly far more valuable than $1200. (At least, over a long lifetime it will be worth far more, if you actually can learn and apply the lesson.)

The lesson is … well, yours to learn, actually, but permit me to point out a few that could make the list:
– Evaluation of priorities is a contender. No one can do everything, so you have to pick what you can do, what you’re willing to do, and disregard the rest. You tried to juggle caring for your grandmother, a job, school, and transporting a relative long distance. Obviously, you couldn’t do it all, so at some point you should have made a decision about which one/s you would simply not be able to do. (Think of the calamity that would have ensued if you had fallen asleep because of overwork and lack of sleep while driving your relative: you could have hurt or killed either or both of you, and even if uninjured you may have lost the car and then been unable to work or visit your grandmother.) Pick your battles.

- You mentioned “guilt” in relation to two other aspects of your life that do not involve an emotional response to “you committing a crime”, so I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about that. (The conclusion that I arrive at might be very different from yours, but mine would be related to the top item on this list somewhere.)

- You’re young yet; you need to pace yourself.

- When you enter a contract that carries future commitments, you should examine the fine print regarding “unexpected termination”, “failure to fulfill” and exit strategies that don’t bankrupt you morally, emotionally or … obviously … financially.

Please don’t think that I’m criticizing from an ivory tower. I’ve made many of the same mistakes that you made, and it has taken me most of a lifetime to be able to internalize and discuss them dispassionately. If I’m going to be honest then I may as well admit that I still make some of the same mistakes. In fact, I’m not criticizing at all, just hoping that you have been able to get some benefit from the $1200 tuition that you paid to learn some valuable lessons … if you will.

As to actual recourse against the college, I’d advise that you forget it. They’ve already had you running in circles through the application and appeals process – and apparently never offered assistance when you really need it. I’d consider that when it comes time to re-applying for admission to another college.

Oh, and the final lesson, and since this is what we’re all about here anyway, so I will say it: When you found yourself getting in over your head you should have asked for assistance, relief, advice on whether to quit school or college, etc. at the time.

These are really valuable lessons. For $1200 you got a bargain. Consider it money well spent, and move on.

funkdaddy's avatar

I’m sorry all this happened. Don’t get discouraged.

I think if you have the drive to jump back in and get it done, do what you need to do to hit it fast while that drive is there, and just don’t let anything throw you off permanently.

A friend of mine had to repeat a full year of school due to some health issues. In talking about it, someone asked if she was sure she wanted to go back, she gave an analogy that I wish I’d thought of when I was in school.

Basically, she looked at the whole thing like a road trip. If you’re driving to California for something you’ve always wanted, it doesn’t really matter what happens between here and there, you’re going to get there. No one gets a flat tire in Arizona and decides they’ll just stay there. You fix it and keep rolling.

I let a car accident, a totaled car, and the resulting fallout keep me from finishing school. Overall I was unsure if it was exactly the direction I wanted to go, so that coupled with the accident gave me enough pause. I tried to divine a path from circumstances around me. (as in “if I’m meant to get this degree that I’m not sure about, why so many challenges?”) FWIW, I’d advise heavily against that ;).

If you want to go to school, you’re strong enough to make it happen, don’t let $1200 and a callous financial program discourage you. It’s the flat tire, it undeniably sucks, but it doesn’t have to stop your trip.

JLeslie's avatar

I was talking to a professor just two days ago and he told me a story about a student who missed passing a class by one point. The kid begged to do anything, any extra assignment to pass, but this professor’s answer was, “too late.” This professor has a few opportunities during the semester to do extra credit work, and this guy never took advantage of it then. The kid also had a history of not doing some assignments. What impressed upon me most was how this professor was definitely not going to make any exception for missing deadlines, because the student had such a history of not caring.

Probably, one big thing working against you is you have no history with the school of being responsible. I’m not saying you aren’t responsible, I’m just saying, you were a new student. They don’t know if every semester you’re going to have “something” you ask for some special favor, and they probably feel like you need to learn the lesson of consequences.

I think it’s pretty shitty they didn’t help you out since the circumstance was a death in your family, and you were a new student, so you probably weren’t even aware of all the things you should do to tell the school what was going on.

You’ve been turned down twice, it’s probably going to be very difficult to get them to change their mind. Any chance the classes you need usually don’t fill to capacity, and it won’t be a financial loss for the school to let you take the exact classes you had to drop out of? Maybe talk directly to the profs who teach the classes.

jca's avatar

I would try speaking to the Dean. Show him your paperwork and your appeal, and your proof of your grandmother’s death and any other documents that you feel are relevant. It can’t hurt to ask.

Mariah's avatar

You’ve been handed a raw deal. If you were to set up a GoFundMe page I would donate.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Go to a professional counselor who will help you deal with the school authorities.
Even a professional letter from the counselor will be convincing.

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