Two days before the Fall 2020 semester bill was originally due, UNC Wilmington announced an extension due to inaccurate charges because of changes caused by the COVID-19 virus.
Many universities around the world are currently contending with the complex issue of how to safely open and operate campuses. But as positive cases of the COVID-19 virus continue to climb ever higher in America, it’s making many universities change their plans while they’re already in motion.
This reality has resulted in the latest hiccup for UNCW’s Fall 2020 semester as many students have complained of their online and hybrid-heavy course load tuition costs being much pricier than a traditional face-to-face course load. As UNCW stated in a July 27 email announcing the changes, “While many student E-bills are accurate, the increased number of students enrolling in a combination of face-to-face, hybrid and online classes resulted in some students’ e-bills being higher than the full-time, main campus rate for their student level and residency.”
The unpredictability of the upcoming semester has thus created some inconsistencies in the calculation of many students’ e-bills, but the university is currently working to resolve this issue. Let’s break down what happened with information from Student Accounts and the Cashier’s Office:
How did this inconsistency happen?
UNCW calculates e-bills based on several different factors, a major one of which is the campus code for the course. There are two campus codes, main UNCW campus or extension campus (aka Onslow campus or online). Main campus-coded courses typically have a higher bill, as it includes not only tuition, technology fees, and security fees, but also any anticipated residency costs, meal plans, parking passes, and other costs related to in-person education and campus residency. On the other hand, extension campus-coded courses are billed at a lesser amount as the classes require fewer resources from the main campus.
The e-bill miscalculation happened because many courses were originally listed as main campus courses before they were moved online, but the campus code was not properly updated. Many departments have been making the decision to move an in-person or hybrid course or entire section online on a case-by-case basis as predictions of what the fall semester may look like continues to change and evolve. In this harried environment, some courses were not properly updated for various reasons and the system was not able to correctly process the changes.
How is this being resolved? How are classes now being charged?
Many departments across campus are creating so-called “shadow” courses, which are copies of the original course but correctly formatted for an online course. Students in the original courses are being moved into these “shadow” courses, which will take the place of the original course listing to correct previous billing errors. Nothing about the course has changed beyond the numerical designation, which will help ensure that final semester bills are as accurate as possible. The registrar’s office has said it will notify any students who are being moved into the new courses.
What happens to a student’s bill if an in-person class is changed to an online course? Will there be fees for a distance learning-heavy course load or if students are not able to take a typical full course load?
Since an online course is typically billed for less than an in-person course, if a student’s course is moved online, their final e-bill will have a lesser amount than before. Unlike some other institutions, UNCW does not employ fees for distance learning at any credit hour or course load level.
What if a student has already paid their e-bill before this was announced? And what if an in-person class is moved online after they have paid?
Students who have already paid their e-bill prior to this issue will have their balance reviewed. If the final version of the bill is less than the amount they have already paid, the student will receive a refund through the usual student account refund process. Refunds will begin to be processed on the first day of the fall semester. As the situation regarding planning for how the COVID-19 virus may affect the fall semester, if a class is later moved online, the difference will be evaluated and applied to the student’s e-bill account if funds are available to provide the refund.
The new revised e-bills will be issued next week on August 5 and the due date for the fall semester e-bill is now set for August 27, the last day of the add/drop period for Fall 2020.