Westminster College will switch to a new tuition insurance provider at the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester, automatically enrolling students in a program that will provide up to a 75% refund for those who face “unexpected hardships,” the school announced Thursday.
Under the new program, covered students will be eligible for tuition refunds if they experience an injury, sickness or mental health issue that causes them to withdraw from all their classes. All students will be automatically placed in the program with a charge equal to 1% of their tuition and fees.
“For example, if a student is injured in a car accident or suffers from a debilitating mental health issue that results in withdrawal it may be difficult to pay for unexpected health care bills let alone finish paying for the semester,” said Michael Santarosa, Westminster registrar, in an email. “The tuition insurance plan allows the student to seek a refund that could provide great financial relief during a stressful time.”
The new program, provided through a partnership with A.W.G. Dewar, Inc., is a shift from the college’s previous insurance provisions, which was more difficult for students to take advantage of.
The previous insurance provider utilized an “opt-in” policy, which was “infrequently used” because of the lack of advertising.
“Very few students knew about or were participating in the prior program— partly because of its opt in approach,” Santarosa said. “Several administrators, especially those reviewing requests for tuition refunds, believed more students facing hardships would be covered and would benefit if we switched to an ‘opt out’ participation program.”
Instead, the new program will operate with an “opt-out” method — meaning all students will be automatically enrolled with the choice to exempt from participation.
Unlike the previous provider, the new policy will allow students to withdraw from classes at any point in the semester — with the ability to receive a refund even if it’s after the Add/Drop deadline. After receiving a refund from the college, students can submit a claim to the new insurance provider for additional funds.
“Westminster wanted to partner with a provider that would be more responsive and willing to actively meet the needs of our students,” said Joshua Montavon, director of financial aid, in an email. “There were unexpected physical and mental health situations that led students to withdraw that fell outside of Westminster’s tuition refund policy. This left students with debt that may be difficult to pay back and stay in school. Tuition insurance would have been a huge help to these students to reduce their financial burden and remain enrolled.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated financial and mental health struggles across the U.S., Montavon said the college hasn’t necessarily seen more tuition requests in the last year. In fact, he said the move to switch insurance providers began prior to the pandemic.
Tuition refund amounts will vary depending on when a student chooses to withdraw from their classes. However, regardless of timing, students can expect up to a 75% refund.
If a student withdraws before classes begin, a full refund will be disbursed. If it’s during the first week of classes, Westminster will provide an 80% refund.
The tuition insurance program begins to step in during the second week of classes, offering up to a 15% refund — in addition to Westminster’s 60% refund — equal to the promised 75%.
Similarly, students can receive a 45% refund from the tuition insurance program — added to the college’s 30% — if they withdraw during the third or fourth week of the semester. After that, students can submit a claim of up to 75% in funds from the tuition insurance program alone.
“The tuition refund plan (TRP) complements Westminster’s refund schedule so that students facing the covered situations can expect up to 75% refund,” Santarosa said.
For injury and sickness claims, students will be required to provide certifications from a physician that prove a student’s physical condition forced them to withdraw from classes. For a mental health claim, a licensed physician must certify the diagnosis.