UNM rethinks suing former students over unpaid tuition

On Special Assignment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The University of New Mexico is trying to collect millions of dollars in unpaid tuition and fees. In some cases, that even means suing former students to get them to pay up.

It’s something universities across the country have done, but now UNM says it is reconsidering the lawsuits.

It costs about $7,556 a year now for tuition and fees at the UNM. So, going to college is a big step for students, like Gabriella Gallegos.

“It’s been very scary because, especially because I’m not exactly sure what I want to do,” Gallegos said.

On top of the pressure to choose a career, there’s the financial pressure to do it fast.

“I had to take out a loan, and I’m in classes that I’m not sure are going to be necessary for what I’m going to do in the future.”

Most of the time, UNM says, students live up to their financial responsibilities–but not always.

Students can rack up debt by failing to keep up with their payment plans or school loans, by losing a scholarship or just by dropping out and missing the deadline to cancel classes. The university says it’s trying to collect millions of dollars in unpaid tuition and fees from former students–$9.9 million as of September.

Data provided by UNM

“It’s important to be able to collect those monies so that we can continue to offer the product we do,” said UNM spokesman Daniel Jiron.

He said most of the money still outstanding involves former students registered for classes between Fall 2014 and Summer 2019, but some cases date as far back as 2006.

The $9.9 million in unpaid tuition as of September only amounts to about 1% of the university’s last five years of revenue, UNM pointed out.

Data provided by UNM

Students have to accept financial responsibility when they sign up for classes. So anyone who leaves UNM without paying can expect to hear from the university. However, they say, they’re willing to work with students.

“If they’re going through difficult times, whatever it may be… they can avoid being sent to collections,” Jiron said. “As long as they’re communicating with the Bursar’s office and making an effort to make payment, they don’t even have to pay monthly and it could be as little as $20, they will not be sent to collections.”

After no contact or payments for about six months, UNM says, it has a collection agency take over for a year.

“If at that time, they have made no progress with it, it will come back to UNM,” Jiron said. “We will look at the balance, we’ll look and make sure we have correct contact information, those sorts of things. Within a couple of months, it will go to another collection agency.”

Then, UNM says, in some cases where former students had the means to pay and just didn’t, it sued.

Court records show UNM filed a civil lawsuit over unpaid tuition as recently as May. The following month, KRQE News 13 got curious and requested public records from UNM about those lawsuits. In all, the university says it’s suing 50 former students for a total of more than $200,000.

But it won’t be suing any other students for now. Jiron said UNM decided to suspend and reevaluate that process as of July 1. He said it had nothing to do with KRQE News 13’s information request in June.

“No, again, it was the change in administration,” he replied. “They looked at it and said, okay, what’s the process on this and moving forward let’s stop this for the time being and, again, make sure the process is fair to everyone.”

Fair to everyone because Jiron said only one of the three collection agencies UNM was working with would recommend lawsuits. A luck of the draw for students.

Still, UNM says, collection agencies are a last resort. They’d much rather work things out directly with their former students before it gets to that point.

UNM says it’s still unclear if it will sue over unpaid tuition in the future, but if it does, it will make sure the process is “equitable.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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