Western Kentucky University has been touting recent gains in retaining students through efforts like streamlining advising and retooling financial aid. But some of the increased retention stems from a change related to allowing students who are overdue on university bills to register for classes.
Last semester, WKU largely dropped a policy that kept students from registering for the following semester’s classes if they were carrying outstanding balances. While some still owed tuition, most students were locked out of registering because of minor overdue fees.
WKU officials declined to say exactly how much of the increased retention was due to that change.
Brian Kuster, WKU’s vice president for enrollment and student experience, said the unpaid bills could range from an unpaid parking ticket to a course-change fee or other bills students might have incurred since attending.
“One student owed six cents and had a hold so they couldn’t register,” Kuster told the Daily News. While students worked out payments, they missed out on registering for important classes that filled up quickly, Kuster said.
Now, Kuster said, the university no longer puts registration holds on students with a past due balance of $1,000 or less.
The change is having an impact on hundreds of students, Kuster said.
In October, when the policy was changed, Kuster estimated there were close to 600 students who would have been affected by the policy.
But because of the change “They were able to register on time and have the biggest selection of classes to continue their education,” Kuster said.
In early December, Kuster said, there were 396 students with outstanding balances less than $1,000. Since then, about half have been able to pay off those balances, Kuster said. When classes began this spring, 215 students had unpaid balances, he said.
On Friday, when Assistant Vice President for Student Success Christopher Jensen discussed new retention efforts with the university’s Board of Regents, he described a micro-grant program that helped some students reduce their outstanding balances. In one case, WKU awarded 22 micro-grants to underrepresented minority students to help them reduce their bills below $1,000.
“That was a huge impact and helped those students,” he said.
For WKU President Timothy Caboni, the policy change is a no-brainer. In a recent interview, he described the idea of a student being barred from registering because of a delinquent parking ticket as “completely absurd.”
“For $25, we’ve said to a student, ‘You can’t register and come and pay $5,000 in tuition,’ ” Caboni said. “That is the dumbest business decision I’ve ever heard of.”