The shoulders of a lot of public institutions — universities included — are heavy with the weight of growing financial burdens. Budgets are getting the slash and burn everywhere and public funding is on a crash diet, which means a lot of these outfits have dispatched frantic search parties looking for every last dollar they can find. For some colleges and universities, that means going after unpaid fees. And we're not just talking about the price tag for that copy of Tropic of Cancer you never returned.
The Akron Beacon Journal has a story chronicling the legal standoff between unemployed Janice Baker and her alma mater, the University of Akron. Although she graduated in 1999, Baker was slapped two years ago with a lawsuit alleging she never paid for her last chunk of tuition, an amount that comes out to $1,580 plus 10 years of interest.
Baker claims she didn't know she owed. At graduation, UA students were told they wouldn't be getting their diplomas if a tab with the school was still outstanding; when the elementary education grad paid the fees with her credit card and got a degree in the mail, she figured everything was kosher. The school, however, maintains the payment never went through.
The case was originally decided in the school's (and state's) favor by Stow Municipal Court Judge Lisa Coates, who ordered Baker to cut a check. But last week, the district court of appeals reversed that decision. Baker is looking for a jury trial in the lower court — a task that could prove problematic.
“How can you prove you did or didn’t do something so long ago?” Baker tells the paper.
Buried deep under the graphs outlining Baker's case is an interesting little omission: the Beacon-Journal asked the school how much uncollected tuition it has on its books, and the school couldn't say. So there's no sense whether Baker's situation is part of a sea of unpaid bills, or just an isolated instance. We've actually heard of a rise in this practice among local institutions of higher learning, but more on that later.