Your Voice | Fees in Vain


A second-year Penn Law student writes about Penn's unfair late payment policy




At a time when students are struggling more than ever to pay their tuition, Penn, a university with the seventh largest endowment in the country (over $6 billion), enforces a late-payment policy that is as inflexible as it is unfair. Under Penn’s policy, a student who is past due in making a tuition payment is charged a 1.5 percent late fee. This sounds like small peanuts, but with tuition rates as high as they are, this fee can be as high as $400 or $500.

What’s worse, Student Financial Services strictly enforces the policy and refuses to work with students — they grant few waivers, even in cases where the student has demonstrated clear financial hardship. This draconian policy is not the norm at any of Penn’s peer institutions, like Harvard, Yale or Michigan. These schools use less rigid tactics, like placing holds on a student’s account, in order to compel timely payment of tuition.

I am not questioning the efficacy of Penn’s late-payment policy and I understand the importance of enforcing laws on the books. I am, however, questioning its fairness. Since 1756, Penn’s motto has been, Leges Sine Moribus Vanae — “Laws Without Morals are in Vain.” With tuition rates already sky-high and with the number of students in difficult financial straits growing, perhaps it is time for Student Financial Services to ask not whether their policy is legal, or effective, but whether it is moral.

Jonathan Newman is a second year Penn Law student.His email address is jnewm@law.upenn.edu.

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