By Ann Marie Galvan
Some students have received automated reminders of outstanding debts owed to City College, even after those balances had already been paid.
City College uses the Chancellor’s Office Tax Offset Program (COTOP) to collect past due amounts. The debt is sent to the state of California for collection, and the owed amount is deducted from the “student’s income tax return, lottery winnings, or other state refund.”
The balance has to be outstanding for a full year before City College sends a letter in the mail reminding the student of their debt before the debt is sent to COTOP, according to the Tuition and Fees Office.
Complicating the issue, the automated email reminders for students to pay outstanding fees are sent by the Tuition and Fees Office using the email@example.com email address. The problem is that they are being sent well after a student has paid their balances.
Students with outstanding balances have holds placed on their records until they can pay, which then blocks access to on-campus services and class registration. These incorrect email reminders are upsetting and confusing for many students.
Student Chancellor Heather Brandt is one of the students receiving faulty reminder emails. “I received a ton of notices. I’m not complaining about the notices I received prior to paying — those to me seem reasonable. They’re justified.
“But the issue for me became the fact that I had paid these balances and continued to receive these notices, and I have been hearing from other students that were in the same position,” she said.
In addition to her duties as the elected Student Chancellor, Brandt is a working student at City College and a mother of three and can recount the shock of receiving an incorrect overdue notice.
“In spring of 2022, my son ended up being hospitalized with a bacterial blood infection. This was an unforeseen circumstance for me. It was at or around midterms, and I needed to withdraw from my classes,” Brandt said.
Brandt withdrew from her courses, incurring a balance of over $400 to be repaid to City College. She paid her balance in May 2022.
“I continued to receive notices: ten days later [after payment], and then June 10 — so almost a month later.” She said the notices went out “far longer than they should have,” but did stop.
“The first time this happened to me, I was confused — oh my gosh, did I pay it? Did I just think I paid it? Did my payment not go through? It made me panic. I was worried about my ability to attend classes,” Brandt said.
Brandt has heard from other students with the same problem. Even a student who attended seven years ago had started receiving these notices, she said.
The reason why these notices are going out even after students have paid is unclear, but it is most likely a technical issue.
“It sounds like part of the issue is that when a student is making a payment they’re not specifying which semester to apply the payment towards, so it creates a confusion in the system that doesn’t make it accurately reflect as paid,” Brandt said, after she met with Chancellor David Martin about the issue.
“I, as a student, don’t recall the system asking me, ‘What semester are you applying this toward?’ I just go in and pay,” she added.
The issue is still under investigation, and at the Board of Trustees’ meeting held on Aug. 25, Chancellor Martin said he would have more to say about this issue.
Brandt continued, “I got the sense that this was in our control, and we could potentially resolve this issue. I just feel like there are so many breakdowns in communication at CCSF, whether that’s across departments or on the website — our processes are not very clear and straightforward.”
Regardless, the Board and City College are committed to resolving this issue, Brandt said. “We don’t want students confused.”