The Debt Collector, Berea College

By Ülvi Gitaliyev

In theory, Berea College is a tuition-free institution. While this may be true for currently enrolled students, some alumni have been facing financial obstacles from the College for years now.

In early March, an alumni on Bereans Gone Wild: Cult Edition posted about how eight years after graduating, they were still being asked to pay back loans in order to access their transcripts. The full amount asked for was $906 and was the result of unpaid fines (due to supposedly leaving out trash during move-out) and an inflated Expected Family Contribution. Other alumni reported similar problems.

After some research, I was able to find more cases of students owing money to the college after graduating/transferring.

For example, a year after graduating, an alumni received this message from Student Accounts: “Hi [Name redacted]. You have not received your diploma because you have a hold for a delinquent loan. For more information, please contact Student Accounts at 859-985-3094.” This was also due to unpaid fines.

One anonymous student who transferred after the Spring 2020 semester shared her story with The Berea Torch. They talked about how failure to deliver their college laptop resulted in $700 of debt and a hit to their credit score.

“Basically, I owed the college money for the laptop they give out to students. I ended up transferring colleges due to some bad experiences with students and professors within the Computer Science Department. This was during the whole mess in 2020 when they sent us home early. They wanted me to return the laptop in person, which I couldn’t do since I lived over 10 hours away so I just ended up keeping it.

Fast forward to this year, and I happened to need an official transcript. I have been fighting on and off with the college about this debt due to my circumstances at the time, and I let them know I would be happy to ship the laptop if they paid for shipping but all of that ended up nowhere. They ended up opening a student loan account in my name for the amount of the laptop and when I didn’t pay, they sent it to Heartland Collections, and then to another collections company called Security Credit Systems (SCS.) My credit absolutely tanked because they reported me as ‘missing payments’ even though it was never a loan that I agreed to make set payments on. I had to have an official transcript so I ended up paying it through SCS, who essentially lied to me all throughout our interaction saying that they could remove the account from my credit report and lying to me about the full amount due. I ended up having to pay almost $700 for the initial bill and various fees, and it still hasn’t come off my credit report because Berea College is the one who reported it in the first place and they are the only ones who can remove the account.”

It is ironic, to say the least, for a college that is supposedly for lower-income families and has a over $1.20 billion dollar endowment to hold people’s transcripts and diplomas hostage for the sake of years old fines. Similarly, financially punishing students for keeping their laptops due to unprecedented circumstances is not very helpful to their future success. Pardoning such loans and giving students their diplomas should be the norm for all alumni in the future.

5 responses to “The Debt Collector, Berea College”

  1. I am one of these affected individuals!

    My transcripts have been withheld due to loans that the college is reporting to credit bureaus, though they do not hold the loans, and I cannot locate them! I have fought for seven years since I graduated in 2015 to be continually told that the college could do nothing to release transcripts due to institutional holds.

    I owe less than $3000 dollars.

  2. Just because someone has fines or has an efc doesn’t mean Berea isn’t tuition free.

  3. Stealing a laptop and having to repay the cost isn’t the fault of the college.

  4. I agree, Berea College should definitely not show me any repercussions for stealing. Yet another great article!

  5. Sounds like a lot of these people may be eligible for discharge if someone took loans out in their name without their consent.

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