5 On Your Side

College is costly enough without application mistakes

Posted July 10, 2017 6:10 p.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2017 6:50 p.m. EDT

Brittany Eason was commiserating with a friend about tuition at East Carolina University when she discovered she had been paying much more than she should have.

How could that happen? The university had classified Eason as an out-of-state student when she'd lived in North Carolina all her life.

"I was saying pray for me, I've got a lot of money to pay for summer classes. I don't have $4,000 laying around," Eason said.

"I showed her my bill, and she said, 'Mine's only a thousand something, so something's not right.'"

Eason, a junior, had overpaid for two years after transferring from Campbell University. The difference amounted to about $15,000, she said.

Eason said she correctly filled out the address section on her application but did not fill in the section about residency. It's marked as a required field, so Eason's mom, Kelly Aldridge, wonders why the application wasn't flagged from the start.

"How did it get processed with no one contacting her to find out what her residency status is, even though her address is listed on the application?" Aldridge asked.

Considering that residents receive a significant tuition discount, in early May of 2017, Aldridge filed an appeal. A few weeks later, she got an email saying the Tuition Refund Appeals Committee (or TRAC) was "unable to approve the appeal" but that it was forwarded to ECU's Administration and Finance division.

When weeks passed without an answer, Aldridge contacted 5 On Your Side.

An ECU spokeswoman told 5 On Your Side "simply listing a North Carolina mailing address is not proof of residency under state law." Jeannine Manning Hutson said when an applicant doesn't declare residency "no additional evaluation is needed, even if the return address is within the state."

Hutson noted that Eason overlooked the out-of-state status on her acceptance letter and her bills each semester.

After a thorough review, the university refunded nearly $15,000. Aldridge and Eason are, of course, relieved.

This future teacher sees the experience as a critical lesson.

"When your classes are paid for, and it's time to start class, you're just glad they're paid for,
but you really do need to go back and just make sure everything lines up and everything's OK," she said. Given the costs of going to college, there is no money to waste!

ECU says Eason's experience is extremely rare, and Hutson pointed out that although it took two years for Eason to realize the issue, the university needed only two months to investigate and fix it.

One other note: Individual schools like ECU used to verify residency, but after a change to state law, that is now a centralized process that handles all the schools in the UNC System.