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Tuition Enforcement Season – Tips For Handling Tuition Disputes

By Brian B. Garrett

As the summer winds down, many schools are confronted with a familiar challenge: parents withdrawing their children from school and attempting to renege on tuition obligations. This recurring issue can derail a school’s plan to adequately prepare for the new academic year; not only can these disputes greatly impact a school’s accounting of its enrollment and budget, but they can also present complex questions regarding a school’s relationship with its community.

This inevitable annual ritual underscores the importance of drafting an unambiguous enrollment contract that provides a school with flexibility to aggressively enforce tuition obligations. Such contracts should make clear that a family’s obligation to pay tuition and other fees for the full school year is absolute and unconditional, regardless of whether a student does not attend or is dismissed from school, either voluntarily or involuntarily, and perhaps even if the school has a waitlist and can fill the classroom seat.

Even with a strong, clear contract, schools will still debate whether and to what extent they will hold a family accountable. Maybe a parent was laid off from a job or unexpectedly relocated out of state. Or maybe the family has a legacy at the school, and currently has other children enrolled. Or maybe the student simply opted to attend a different school.

Because of the array of circumstances tethered to any one situation, we recommend that schools have clear, written, internal tuition enforcement guidelines to help navigate how decisions are made with respect to enforcing payment obligations. Tuition enforcement guidelines will articulate a protocol for a school to follow when dealing with delinquent payments, including what restrictions, if any, can be placed on a student who may still be enrolled in the school. In addition, these guidelines will recognize mitigating and extenuating circumstances, as well as specifying who at the school has the discretion to permit any waiver of a family’s tuition payment obligations.

With comprehensive guidelines in place, schools will find it much more manageable to respond to late summer withdrawals and delinquent accounts.