Handling refunds at a college or university is no simple task. It can be quite the burden; just ask Peter Beilharz, who has been handling refunds for St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas since the 1990s.
"It was not unusual to get 50 appeals a year, just for tuition refunds," Beilharz, Director of Student Accounts said.
Beilharz has been working at St. Edward's, his alma mater, for more than three decades. He describes the process as not only burdensome but also costly.
"With tuition being as high as it is at a private institution, I was seeing up to $1 million a year of revenue just getting lost from approving these petitions," Beilharz said.
He set out to find a better way to handle refunds.
Initial solutions seem promising, at first
Several years ago, Beilharz created a refund committee to promote fairness. The committee, made up of various representatives from campus, including student disabilities, academic advising, and the registrar's office would meet monthly to decide whether to approve or deny petitions. It seemed to be an effective solution at first, but it was soon evident it took up a lot of time from educators and administrators.
Students who had withdrawn from the university would complete a refund petition asking for a refund due to an extenuating circumstance. But the policy was often misused, as it became the norm for students who left the university to fill out a petition.
Finding a more comprehensive solution with tuition insurance
This was the status quo at St. Edward's until the university vice president mentioned tuition insurance to Beilharz.
It was the first time he heard of such a thing. After a little bit of research, he found GradGuard and was instantly sold on the program.
"It was something that was free and we didn't really have to do much," Beilharz said. "You guys handle everything for us. It was a no-brainer to say, 'Yeah, let's do this!'"
Implementing the program and seeing results
St. Edward's implemented GradGuard's Tuition Protection Program in 2018. Beilharz notes how setting up the program required very little work on their end.
"It's very easy," Beilharz said. "It's taken a lot of burden off me having to deal with petitions. The set up involved in doing it was less than doing one refund committee meeting."
Getting away from the refund petition process was a game-changer for the university, Beilharz says. With GradGuard, administrators don't have to worry about which petitions to approve or deny, which often created an emotional burden.
St. Edward's doesn't even have to do much in terms of informing students and families about the program.
Integration grows program adoption
When St. Edward's first partnered with GradGuard, Beilharz describes how it was challenging to get students and families on board with the Tuition Protection Program. But once they understood the optional program provides an affordable way to insure their tuition, room and board, and other fees, participation grew. Integrating with the campus' billing provider this year enabled more students and families with a seamless way to protect their investment.
"There's a dashboard with information there and students can go there more directly," Beilharz said. "Every year, it just keeps growing and growing. More and more families are aware of it."
Through integration, GradGuard recommends schools utilize a consent manager for tuition refund schedules and policies. This ensures that even students and families who don't opt for tuition protection through GradGuard are made aware of the dates and policies related to withdrawals and refunds. St. Edward's utilizes the consent manager feature for this purpose.
"It's always been somewhere on our website," Beilharz said. "But as a result of working with GradGuard, we've created this really simple process of making students aware of it."
Reducing revenue loss and retaining budgets
A common conversation among higher education professionals often surrounds finding ways to cut costs and reduce revenue loss. Beilharz says he talks to colleagues at other institutions about refund policies and tuition insurance, sharing stories about what works and what doesn't for their institution.
“Every institution I talk to who doesn’t offer tuition insurance -- I ask them, ‘Why? Why are you not providing this for your families? You could be saving so much money, it’s really all about money," he said.
Beilharz considers himself to be a big proponent of GradGuard's tuition protection program and recommends every college and university look into it.
The days of managing burdensome, time-consuming refund petitions at St. Edward's are long over for Beilharz and his colleagues. Making refund policies more lenient isn't always an option. But implementing a streamlined process for students and families to consent to be aware of the existing refund policy is a step just about every school can take. Offering an active-choice tuition insurance option for students and families goes a step further, allowing them to protect their investment from the financial risks of college life.
Implementing a tuition protection program costs nothing to schools and requires very little work by administrators. St. Edward's continues to see participation in the program grow year after year. Integration successfully puts students and their families in control of one of the largest investments they will make in their lifetime.