Extra Mills fees and how to avoid them

By
September 23, 2011

The price tag on a private liberal arts education is never cheap, and for many students at Mills, tuition is not the end of the bill.

Students can be hit by seven different M Center fees, as well as charges from Housing Management & Dining Services (HMDS) — for offenses ranging from late check-out to un-vacuumed rooms — and parking tickets from Public Safety. Often students are unaware of the reasons behind these fees and the alternatives to paying them.

Late Fees:  The Light at the End of the Paperwork

Late confirmation of semester attendance is one of the seven fees the M Center charges. Others include late payment fees, late add/drop fees, late medical waiver fees and late emergency loan fees — fees charged for failing to pay back emergency loans from the College in less than 30 days.

The first mention of a late payment fee in the Mills catalog dates back to 1891, although no exact amount is given. Not until 1925 did the first number make the books —  a $5 late registration fee. Today the M Center charges students $250 for the same offense, as the College considers those who have not confirmed semester attendance and registered by the add deadline withdrawn.

Last year, 440 students were charged some kind of late fee by the M Center, and 199 opted to petition for waivers. According to M Center records, 71 percent of the petitions were approved.

In addition to registration and tuition payments, students must click “Confirm Semester Attendance” through the online Portal service before the beginning of the semester or they suffer another $250 fee. Formerly called “Check-In,” the Confirmation of Semester Attendance is required — in addition to registering for classes and paying tuition –— to make students legally responsible for payments each semester. Confirmation of Semester Attendance also serves to provide Mills administrative departments with an official headcount, according to M Center Operations Manager Deborah Long.

“There are a lot of entities that rely on that data — Financial Aid, the Western Association for Accreditation (WAC), the state and federal government or any kind of census report,” Long said.

All fees have the possibility of being waived if a student submits a petition to the Financial Petition Committee during the semester the charge occurred, according to Long.

“We know that life happens and things happen that are unexpected,” Long said. “Also we know, sometimes, people make a mistake. It’s more likely the committee is going to forgive a first-time offender, but if you’re getting late fees every semester, what that says to me is that the student isn’t communicating.”

Typically, students and families who call or e-mail the M Center to ask for a deadline extension on payments have their requests granted.

“With those students who do communicate with us, we put a note in their account to say ‘no late fee’ so they won’t get charged,” Long said.

Starting this year, students can fill out and submit the financial petition online, a change Long hopes will make the process easier.

Improper Check-Outs Lead to Community Service

While the M Center notifies students of changes in their student account balance nightly via an automated e-mail, charges from HMDS do not appear as quickly. Tarin Griggs, a senior, has found unexpected charges while checking her student account several times.

“My sophomore year, I was checking my Portal — trying to be a conscientious student — and I saw I had been charged $35 for improper checkout,” Griggs said. “To this day I don’t know what that was for.  I think it might have been because I didn’t vacuum my room before I left.”

Griggs was not charged until July — two months after the end of the semester. According to HMDS policy, charging at the end of the semester is standard procedure.  However, just because a charge appears on your record does not
necessarily mean you have to pay.

“There’s flexibility,” said HMDS Archivist and Administrative Assistant Phaedra Gauci. “We try to avoid billing people as much as possible, but if something needs to be physically replaced, then we need that money.”

Students can appeal fees by filling out an appeal form from HMDS offices. In addition to appealing fees, students can also “work off” money owed by doing community service. This service can take place on campus with Public Safety at a rate of $10 of credit an hour if there are jobs available, according to Gauci.

Working for Public Safety includes trash pick-up at 6 a.m., in-office filing and paper sorting.

“Every once in a while, I sit a student at the front gate with us so they can see what we go through — that’s punishment,” Michael Lopez, the Director of Public Safety, joked.

Alternately, HMDS will count community service that takes place outside the Mills gates. If students are involved with other organizations, they can have a letter sent by a supervisor to verify they have put in the hours.

Sophomore Nina Sabahi, who was charged her second fee by HMDS this semester for moving into her room before the dorms officially opened,  said she would be open to working off the charge by doing community service. She was unaware of the option to do so when she was charged for improper check-out last semester.

Parking Tickets Can Get You a Job With Public Safety

Another way to quickly rack up extra fees is through parking tickets. If tickets are not paid or successfully appealed within two weeks of the citation, they double in amount, according to Mills’ parking and transportation regulations.  Public Safety issued 1,005 tickets to students last year, but  like the M Center and HMDS, they offer an appeal for waiver form which is approved by a committee.

Senior Kate Ruprecht was recently charged $60 for being “parked on the sidewalk” in front of Ethel Moore but plans to contest the ticket. For multiple semesters, Ruprecht has parked with her front wheel on the small pathway to avoid having another car clip her mirror during nighttime driving, something she feels is very possible because of the narrowness of the road leading to Mary Morse. Ruprecht was unaware she was violating any  regulations by parking this way.

“I feel $60 is very expensive for a student when the parking violation was not one that would pose any sort of safety threat, such as not stopping at a stop sign,” Ruprecht said. “In the last couple semesters, it seems no matter how careful I try to be, sooner or later I’ll see a beige ticket tucked under my windshield wiper.”

Although the option to pay balances by working for Public Safety is only sometimes available for HMDS charges; temporarily donning the uniform is a more standard procedure for students with fees from the Public Safety Department itself.

“The only problem is that there are only so many jobs to be had,” Lopez said.

According to Lopez, the money collected from tickets mainly funds parking signs as well as departmental supplies — just the radios Public Safety uses alone cost about $800 each. Ticket money is also used to stock an emergency food and water supply in the room next to Lopez’s office in the CPM building, which has enough rations for everyone on campus for three days in the event of an emergency such as a natural disaster.


Extra Mills fees and how to avoid them was published on September 23, 2011 in News

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