It's not uncommon for higher education staff to find themselves inundated with appeals for medical withdrawals. It's a burdensome process that's also difficult on students and families. In fact, that's exactly what was happening at the University of St. Thomas just a few years ago.
The private university in St. Paul, Minnesota is like many colleges and universities nationwide in that they don't offer refunds beyond the first few weeks of classes. If a student needed to make a medical withdrawal after that period, they would find themselves out of luck when it came to getting any money back unless an appeal was submitted and ultimately approved. But schools have the unique opportunity to offer a viable resource to students and families to help them from financial losses -- tuition insurance.
The costly and burdensome claims process
In 2015, the University of St. Thomas began offering tuition insurance to its students to help them from financial losses and also help alleviate some of the burdensome appeals process for the staff, according to Stephanie Carlson, the school's Director of the Business Office.
“We were probably doing over $1 million in refunds because of medical appeals,” Carlson said.
Tuition insurance is a valuable student benefit that helps students secure a refund when they are forced to unexpectedly withdraw from school due to a covered condition or other covered reason such as the death of a parent.
The University of St. Thomas was previously working with another provider. But there were challenges, and the arrangement wasn't working for the school, nor the provider. That's when Carlson and her team found GradGuard. The university became a school partner in May 2020, with plans to offer GradGuard tuition insurance for the fall semester.
“It’s one of those kinds of blessings in disguise,” Carlson said. “Because as far as I can tell, GradGuard is a much better product, and is certainly going to be a lot easier to work with.”
If a student needs to leave school due to a medical issue, without a granted exception, it's more than likely that the institution will only provide a prorated refund through the first few weeks of school. Refunds for room and board and academic fees are even more unlikely to happen.
Online integration made easy
One of the stark differences Carlson notes between GradGuard and other alternatives is how easy it was to implement the tuition insurance program. The University of St. Thomas is a TouchNet school, making integration into the existing online tuition payment portal seamless.
“You’ve made my job so much simpler,” Carlson said. “You couldn’t ask for much more.”
At no cost to the school, GradGuard's tuition insurance implementation went live at the University of St. Thomas in August. "Many of the previous administrative burdens and technological challenges have completely disappeared since partnering with GradGuard", Carlson said.
She says St. Thomas, like so many other colleges and universities across the country, sees many mental health related medical appeals. School administration shouldn’t have to be in the position to approve or deny these types of sensitive appeals. The GradGuard program allows students and families to protect their investment past the school refund policy, which in turn elevates the need for a school's appeals process.
“There’s a tool that we can provide families, otherwise it would be a much more murky situation,” Carlson said.
The growth in financial losses from withdrawals at St. Thomas is not unusual. In fact, even prior to coronavirus, more than 70% of schools surveyed in 2019 reported an increase in student medical withdrawals.
St. Thomas joined the expanding GradGuard family of almost 400 colleges and universities nationwide who protect their students with its modern form of tuition and renters insurance.
Offering a solution for students and families in an uncertain time
When launching a new program at a school, one of the biggest challenges can be getting the student body and families familiar with the partnership. But that wasn't necessarily the case at St. Thomas.
“Our integration has led to upwards of 230 students taking advantage of the program in just the first month, and it continues to grow each day,” Kaylyn Manning, Director of Campus Development at GradGuard said. “It is a pleasure to partner with the University of St. Thomas to provide students the confidence they need to return back to campus.”
GradGuard’s Tuition Insurance at partner schools like the University of St. Thomas starts at just $110 for $10,000 worth of coverage. Plans purchased for the fall 2020 semester also currently accommodate claims related to withdrawals due to a student falling ill with COVID-19. This accommodation is in place until further notice and is subject to change in the future.
“It’s very affordable, so I think it’s a great investment for the students and their families," Carlson said. "Now, more than ever, I’m grateful to have this coverage option available for our students and their families."
Thirty years ago, tuition insurance may not have been necessary, but today, the benefit protects students, families, and institutions alike. Given the financial distress many schools are under during COVID-19, tuition insurance takes the burdensome appeals process off of the school, conserving precious time and energy.
Given the ordinary risks of college life, it’s smart for all families to be vigilant, and to have the opportunity to help themselves from financial losses with tuition insurance. The University of St. Thomas is doing the right thing by offering students and families the valuable opportunity for a do over. Protecting the out-of-pocket expenses of students in itself helps the school. Tuition insurance utilization at the University of St. Thomas is already showing great promise in helping provide confidence to college students and their families to invest in their education.
This article was updated May 2022 to reflect current pricing for GradGuard's tuition insurance.