The Financial Aid & Canvas Crisis at Jefferson
On October 15, 2021, Thomas Jefferson University disabled Canvas for more than half of the student body. Canvas is an online course management system that is used to enhance in-class learning. Professors use the tool to post grades, create quizzes and assignments, contact students, and post information. Without canvas, students found it challenging to continue with learning and professors were forced to make other accommodations.
The University disabled access to Canvas for students due to outstanding tuition payments. Jefferson wanted to “assist our students in completing ‘Satisfactory Payment Arrangements’ by the specified due date noted on the bill.” The loss of Canvas is only the first step of the “Satisfactory payment arrangements” plan. The next step is that students will lose access to registration for spring classes. In order to reconcile the payment issue, many students reached out to the financial aid department only to be told that in order to make a payment plan, a one thousand dollar payment was required. If a payment plan was not made by October 1, 2021, then a one hundred dollar monthly late fee would be added to the tuition. The payment plan is done through a third-party company called Touchnet. Touchnet tries to stretch out the payment plan months before the tuition is due in order to lower the monthly cost. Unfortunately, students were not made aware of this and assumed they could opt into an affordable payment plan at any time. The closer the tuition due date approaches, the higher the payment plan will be.
On October 28, 2021, a student-led organization, Bridge TJU, hosted a panel to address any questions about financial aid issues. Mathew Baker ,Dean Henry Humphrey, and Chancellor Willie McKether were able to attend the meeting and shine light on some of our questions and concerns. The main issues highlighted were that students are unaware of where the business office was or what department distributes financial aid funds to the college. In reality, college students are not used to being in charge of large financial obligations and many do not know where to look for help in these kinds of situations. There is a large disconnect between the financial aid office and Jefferson students. Most students who were locked out of Canvas had the funds to cover their college tuition, but they were missing documents or experienced a processing error.
All things considered, the Canvas shutdown method of forcing college students to handle their tuition issue was a bit too bold. Shutting down Canvas for some students abruptly may not have been the best way to handle such a situation. This action publicized the financial issues that these students were experiencing and inconvenienced professors in the process. Although the Canvas shutdown did achieve the goal of having students handle their tuition issues, it could have been conducted in a more civilized manner. After this, many students were left confused and embarrassed about their tuition issues.
In sum, the Canvas shutdown debacle can be seen as just one huge misunderstanding that has stemmed from the disconnect between Jefferson students and the financial aid department. The main part of the Canvas crisis meeting hosted by Bridge TJU was to communicate ideas on how to better handle tuition issues among students. The financial aid department is open and willing to help; they just need to be pointed in the right direction.