A situation regarding my online degree with the Art Institute has plagued me over the past few months and I wanted to share it with the online community in the hopes of helping others avoid similar frustrations.
However, because I am absolutely exhausted with the amount of times I have had to re-hash this situation in writing, I will simply share with you the email explaining the situation that was sent to the head of the financial department just this afternoon:
I am writing to inform you of a situation that I hope has been brought to your attention already. I am a recent student of AI Online and was signed up under the Digital Design program. Because of your institution's lack of clarity and communication, I am now deeply upset by the financial situation that has been forced upon me.
Upon enrollment, I was contacted by Silny Arcia regarding the payment options for my tuition. According to Ms. Arcia, I had two options: 1. to pay the tuition in full with a one time payment or 2. to make several payments over the year that would also include interest charges. Not wanting to accumulate interest on an already high amount [$8996.00 after financial aid and loans] and also not wanting to worry about making payments over time, I agreed to pay in full.
However, about a month later, in October of last year, I received a stipend check in the mail for the amount of $5839.18. There was no explanation accompanying the check to let me know why I was receiving said amount so I did some investigating. Since my emails to Ms. Arcia went unanswered, I was left with no choice but to call the general student hotline for finances. It took quite a few calls to receive a clear answer, but eventually an explanation was given. Apparently, the amount of the stipend was a portion of my payment being sent back to me to hold until further billings arrived. I told the representative that I had chosen to pay in full to avoid interest charges and he said that he understood and that it must be 'because there can only be a certain amount of money in the student account at one time.' This, in and of itself is a frustrating concept after being told that I would be able to pay all at once, but I simply put the funds into savings and left it untouched.
Unfortunately, when I received my final tuition statement in the mail I was shocked to find that it's amount FAR exceeded the remaining amount of the stipend. Since email and phone inquiries to Ms. Arcia continued to go unanswered, I contacted my academic advisor in hopes of some directions to another financial contact. He in turn directed me to Tobe Resetar. Upon explaining my situation to Mr. Resetar, he too found that the numbers did not add up and said that he would have to contact the accounting department and get back to me later that day...he never called back. After about a week and a half without response, I contacted Mr. Resetar via email to find out what the progress was. This email was responded to via phone call in which he informed me that the money in question had not yet been 'put back in' my account. Now, why said money was supposedly missing, Mr. Resetar didn't say, but he did inform me that he would contact accounting to find out what the issue was and call me later that evening...again, I never received a second phone call.
Finally, at the completion of classes, tired of the lack of communication and the constant misunderstandings regarding my account, I simply paid the remaining amount from my stipend [$812.22] and sent Mr. Resetar an email informing him that, since the remaining balance was still 'missing' from my account, I would assume he could take care of it with the help of the accounting department. I, in turn, considered myself paid in full based on the information gathered in our previous conversations. That is, until Mr. Resetar's response informed me that I did in fact owe the remaining $919.66. He claimed that this was due to the fact that my 'full amount' payment was actually only for the first academic year from Oct-May AND that I had signed paperwork informing me of such.
HOWEVER, when it is stated at the start of enrollment that a person can PAY THE FULL AMOUNT, one assumes that this is what is happening. Furthermore, had that initial payment not been partially returned to me, I would have been aware of the additional charges sooner when statements containing an unpaid balance arrived at my door. The fact that an institution of this size and stature cannot figure out what to do with a large tuition payment is ridiculous. If a student expects to pay in full to avoid messing with future payments, this option should be fully available. They should not be forced to deal with the hassle of making payments once a large payment has already been made. And on another issue, students of an online organization should be able to expect excellent communication on the part of the school's staff. If face to face is not an option, one should not have to pull teeth in order to get a response from financial advisers and staff. To this day, I am still unaware as to whether Ms. Arcia is even still employed with AIO. I had contact with her for the first few weeks during enrollment and then NEVER HEARD FROM HER AGAIN. This is unacceptable. Staff should return phone calls and emails promptly and follow thru when they say they will call back.
In closing, I wish to leave you with a story about Prudential insurance. Not long ago, Prudential faced a class action lawsuit for the very complaints that I lay before you. In this situation, new clients of Prudential were informed verbally that they could pay for their new insurance with the interest from their existing insurance and never face any out of pocket expenses. However, when interest rates dropped and the first insurance no longer had the amounts predicted, the new clients of Prudential faced unexpected charges. When complaints of this issue were brought to the company's attention, clients were informed that they had signed paperwork that stated this could be a possibility. This mattered not to the clients who had been verbally promised their finances would remain untouched. So, in gathering numbers, the disgruntled clients of Prudential filed a class action lawsuit against the company for falsification of their information. AND THEY WON.
Sometimes what you have in writing doesn't matter as much as what you say. I suggest that you look into improving your lines of communication and clarity before your institution faces a similar fate, perhaps not far in the future.
Michelle Shea Walker