Misinformation about program led to my withdrawal. Exorbitant fees charged. Amount sent to collections with more fees despite being told it would not.
I was enrolled in Full Sail University's Creative Writing MFA online program in April of 2012. My student ID was XXXXXXX.
My decision to enroll in the program followed in-depth questioning with Full Sail recruiters regarding the content of the program. Specifically, I asked how I, as an aspiring novelist, would benefit from the Creative Writing Masters MFA program. I was assured the program would meet my needs and that I would get to decide which type of literary project I would work toward completing at the end of the program.
However, once I began taking the courses it became clear that the program was for Film Writing and did not focus on novel writing. In my first course, with Maylen Dominguez, I brought up my concerns and was urged to continue with the program, being told that later courses would be more in line with novel writing.
Partway through my second course (about my 7th week in the program), led by *********** ***** I had a discussion regarding the disconnect between the program's content and what I expressed to the recruiters was my goal in joining the program. *********** revealed to me that novel writing would not be a direct career path or outcome from Full Sail's Creative Writing program.
The Full Sail recruiters should have been able to correctly describe the content of the program prior to enrollment. Instead, I felt as if they were simply trying to make a sale. There are ethics involved in sales practices, and I do not feel they were applied correctly in this situation. I would not have enrolled if I had been properly informed of the specifics of the program. As with any sale, the product should be accurately described if the transaction is to be legitimate.
After my discussion with Mr. **** I consulted with my Student Advisor, ******** ***** regarding the withdrawal process. I was informed that since my student loans and grants had already been applied toward my tuition for the entire semester, the balance would remain paid through August and I would be able to continue the courses for that particular semester at a later date. Following my decision to withdraw, however, this was not the case. The financial aid portion for the remaining courses was retracted and I was billed $6551 for the unattended courses.
If I were aware that I would subsequently be directly billed $6,551 (an exorbitant sum) for courses that were not provided to me, I would surely have finished out the remainder of the semester and left my balance owed in the form of student loans. Upon receiving the bill, I spoke with Full Sail's Business office and was provided information regarding how to file an appeal. I was not given a timeline for the appeal, and was told that the fees would not be sent to collections during this process.
In late November 2013, I received a letter dated in October 2013 from the General Revenue Corporation (GRC), a collections agency. In addition to the $6551 Full Sail was originally requesting, the GRC added additional charges bringing my total owed amount to over $8000.
Recently, I corresponded with Full Sail University's Compliance Auditor, ****** ******** regarding an appeal I had mailed in October 2013. I had not received a response, so I sent a follow-up appeal letter via email. On December 5, 2013, Mr. Lindblom informed me that after a thorough review of my appeal, Full Sail had agreed to revise my withdrawal calculations and charge 50% of the semester 1 tuition, which would leave a balance due to Full Sail of approximately $2201.
I was also later informed that unless I could pay the balance off in full, the charges would still be held by the GRC (which will likely result in additional charges for the collections action that was not to be taken). Mr. ******** did not address Full Sail's decision to turn the fees over to a collections agency despite the Full Sail Business Office informing me they would not be while going through the appeal process.
While a revision of my withdrawal calculations certainly is a step in the right direction regarding Full Sail taking responsibility for the mishandling of my enrollment and subsequent withdrawal, I do not believe it is sufficient enough to resolve the situation ethically.
A portion of my financial aid had already been applied toward my cost of tuition and supplies (e.g. the Full Sail Launch Box), so the seven weeks I attended courses should already have been covered. My absence from subsequent online courses did not prevent other students from being able to attend, as Full Sail offers courses in the program on a month-by-month basis, with a new class beginning the first course in the program each month.
My absence from the courses did not cost Full Sail money; rather, it saved them money. They did not mail me any of the textbooks or additional tools for the remaining courses and course directors did not spend time teaching me, answering my questions, or grading/evaluating my work. I would argue strongly that my absence allowed the course directors more time to focus on students who did not withdraw, and I should not be paying for saving the company money; let alone for services that were not provided to me.
Ultimately, I made decisions based on the information of people who should be well-versed in their own procedures and policies. The misinformation provided has led to thousands of dollars in fees for services that were not provided. At this time, I wholeheartedly believe it would be appropriate and within Full Sail's means to forgive any remaining balance and to withdraw the balance from the General Revenue Corporation. I have faith that Full Sail will make this situation right and that we can move forward amicably.
We are in receipt of your email from December 9, 2013 regarding a complaint filed by Mr. ****** *********, a former student at Full Sail University. We appreciate the opportunity to respond.
Mr. ********* is disputing the amount owed to the University. He appealed his account balance using the University's published grievance procedure earlier this month. Although Mr. ********* was originally charged appropriately, and in accordance with the enrollment agreement he signed, the University decided to reduce the amount owed and charge him 50% of his original tuition balance as an act of good will. When students attend beyond the third week of the semester, as per the University's published refund policy, they are charged 100% of the semester's tuition. Since Mr. ********* attended well past the third week of the semester, he was charged 100% of that term's tuition. Mr. ********* agreed to the institutional refund policy when he signed the enrollment agreement.
An additional review of Mr. *********'s student account found that all calculations were performed correctly. As a result, we believe a 50% reduction in tuition is more than fair considering he attended nearly two months of the semester, which justifies a 100% charge of tuition.
As with all delinquent accounts where the individual makes no attempt to setup a payment plan with the Business Office, the University turned the account over to the General Revenue Corporation and is no longer involved with the collection of these fees. All individuals are warned before their account is sent to collections. Mr. ********* may contact the General Revenue Corporation at X-XXX-XXX-XXXX to discuss a payment plan option. If Mr. ********* would like to make a payment of $2,201.29 to the University, we will pull the account from collections and he will avoid all collection fees. If he would like to arrange this payment, please have him contact the University's Business Office at XXX-XXX-XXXX.
Mr. ********* also makes a claim the University misrepresented the goals and objectives of the Creative Writing MFA program during his enrollment. All of the University's programs and the courses that make up the programs are described in detail in the University's catalog. The University's Admissions Representatives undergo an ongoing, rigorous training program to ensure they are providing prospective students the most accurate information. Prospective students are required to read the catalog before they sign the enrollment agreement and all students attest that they have done so when they sign the enrollment agreement, so the goals and objectives of the Creative Writing MFA program should not surprise any incoming student.
We hope this response clarifies any misunderstandings, and we wish Mr. ********* the very best in his future endeavors.
Final Consumer Response
(The consumer indicated he/she DID NOT accept the response from the business.)
Full Sail continues to allege that it is impossible that their student advisor or recruiters could have provided misinformation. I have indicated from the start that misinformation was provided by the Student Advisor. That point has been addressed time and time again both through my official appeal process with Full Sail and in each of my contacts to the BBB. To pretend as though I brought up brand new information is insulting. As any member of the public could tell, it was not simply brought up in my last contact to the BBB. Not to mention, Full Sail seems to have no qualms about portraying me as naive and confused. I will not be characterized as such when it is absolutely not the case. Full Sail seems to allege that they are perfect and that the training their recruiters and advisors go through makes them perfect (in theory). To believe so is silly. I consulted with Taragon Horn (my previous student advisor) extensively prior to my decision to withdraw. Whether Ms. Horn was in clear understanding of the procedures and policies or not, her failure to clearly communicate the impact (especially financially) of the decision is exactly why we are involved in this dispute today. One person's mistake is leading to a lot of wasted time for myself, the BBB, and Full Sail. For Full Sail to deny any responsibility is unacceptable. I know my rights and I will pursue them unwaveringly until this issue is put to rest. I attempted to settle the issue with Full Sail first, through their formal appeals process. Now I have done my due diligence by following procedure for a complaint to the BBB. I am not concerned with Full Sail forgiving the entire debt out of "good will." I am concerned with them doing so because it is absolutely the appropriate thing to do. It is evident to me through these communications that Full Sail does not wish me the best in my future endeavors, as they claim. They're hope seems to be that they can bully me into giving in and paying the balance so that they can go on making a profit. I will not be profited from when I'm dealing with a company without the integrity to engage in honest and moral business practices. I have given Full Sail the opportunity to resolve this amicably and the opportunity has been spat upon by constant attempts to manipulate and force me into concession. In conclusion, I would love to review the copy of the fully-signed enrollment agreement; however, indicating that the email was sent does not mean it was actually received, nor does it mean that I will accept that my enrollment and subsequent withdrawal from Full Sail were handled with any level of professionalism, accuracy/attention to detail, or concern for my development and/or wellbeing. With all due respect, I ask once again that Full Sail forgive the balance. Full Sail may be Goliath, but I am a very steadfast and resourceful David. I do not appreciate being bullied; rather, I resent it strongly. In moving forward, if we are unable to reach any type of amicable agreement, I will have no choice but to further escalate the situation with the appropriate organizations. To be transparent, I plan to write to the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges in the near future to express my concerns regarding Full Sail, as it does not seem as though the mediation of the BBB has inspired any ability by Full Sail to acknowledge and accept the appropriate accountability for the mishandling of my enrollment/withdrawal. The ACCSC is a private, non-profit organization which provides national accreditation to post-secondary educational institutions, including Full Sail. Full Sail will receive a copy of any written communication I submit regarding this situation, so as to remain transparent. I do not seek to engage in dishonest or slandering practices; however, I will continue to raise awareness of the issue until it is resolved. To the BBB, thank you for your time spent mediating this complaint.
Final Business Response
We are in receipt of your email from December 27, 2013 indicating that Mr. ********* had provided additional information in this case. We appreciate the opportunity to respond.
In the subsequent communication, Mr. ********* reiterated his dissatisfaction with his balance with the University. In his first point, Mr. ********* claimed that he never received a fully-executed enrollment agreement, thus nullifying the terms of the contract. The enrollment agreement was signed by Mr. ********* on March 29, 2012 and was countersigned by a designated school official on April 9, 2012. The terms of the agreement were agreed to by both parties before Mr. ********* began his first class, which was April 30, 2012. Additionally, a copy of the fully-executed enrollment agreement was sent to Mr. ********* (*********@gmail.com) on April 9, 2012. A copy of this email is available if he or the Bureau would like to review.
Mr. ********* indicated in the follow-up response that his student advisor gave him incorrect information regarding his student account. A student advisor would not have communicated that a student's semester's tuition was 100% covered by loans and/or grants unless that was the case. Mr. ********* may have misunderstood what his advisor was telling him. Mr. ********* had a balance of $1,360.00 balance before he withdrew from the University, so it was impossible for his obligations to be covered by nothing but student financial aid. When he withdrew, the University was required by Federal regulations to refund a portion of his loans, resulting in a larger balance due.
Mr. ********* also stated that he was not warned before his delinquent account was sent to collections. This is untrue. He was sent a final notice on August 30, 2013 warning him that his account was about to be sent to collections if payment arrangements were not made. The account was sent to collections on October 14, 2013. His appeal was not received until December 5, 2013. After his appeal was reviewed, the University decided to reduce the amount owed and charge him 50% of his original tuition balance as an act of goodwill. As we stated before, if Mr. ********* would like to make a payment of $2,201.29 to the University, we will pull the account from collections and he will avoid all collection fees. If he would like to arrange this payment, please have him contact the University's Business Office at XXX-XXX-XXXX.
Mr. ********* restated his displeasure with how the program is portrayed in print and/or by the University's admissions representatives. We stand by our previous response that the University properly describes the goals and objectives of the program. Students gain knowledge that can be directly applied to writing novels-character development, storytelling, story arc & development, portfolio creation, etc.
We hope this response clarifies any misunderstandings, and we wish Mr. ********* the very best in his future endeavors.