Students Protest Termbill Charge

Grad student starts petition against fee for paying in monthly installments

Gary C. Sing, a graduate student studying neuroengineering, started a petition last Wednesday to protest the $35 per semester fee that students face if they choose to pay their room and board in monthly installments rather than through a lump sum.

Sing said his opposition to the fee—which applies to all Harvard students who choose the installment plan—is based primarily on the fact that the structure of graduate stipends often forces students to choose the monthly option.

“The cost of my room and board for this semester is just a little bit more than $4,000,” Sing said. “As a Ph.D. grad student, I receive a monthly stipend of a little less than $2,000, after taxes. You can do the math. The monthly stipend does not allow you to pay off the $4,000 fee using the lump-sum method.”

According to Ellen McCullough, a customer service manager at the Student Financial Services office, the fee is necessary to help the University make up for the income lost when a bill is paid on a monthly basis.

“The timing of receivables coming in...makes a difference in how much money the University has, and so when you’re billed for something and you pay it right away, it’s obviously more beneficial to the University,” she said. “When you pay it out over time, the benefit is reduced, and so in a small way, the fee that is charged for the monthly payment plan helps make up for that lost receivables over time.”

McCullough added that the fee also serves as a disincentive to paying over time.

“There would be no impetus for people to pay up front if there was no charge for the payment plan,” she said. “So people would more likely pay later, which would reduce the University’s receivables.”

Sing said that he sees his petition as a way to help people realize that they can speak out against University policies.

“One of the things that I realized is that a lot of people were frustrated with the fee,” he said. “But because the fee is sort of this official Harvard thing...the thought never crossed their minds that they could actually do something about it.”

McCullough said that 1,730 students are currently paying under the monthly plan. At press time, 41 had signed Sing’s online petition.

Emmanuel Ramirez, a graduate student studying comparative literature, said that he agreed with Sing’s position.

“It seems like it’s not going to be that much,” he said, “but in the long run, you’re going to pay a lot for it. I’m just a poor student.”

Kyong-Mi D. Kwon, a graduate student studying Korean literature, said that she would be willing to aid Sing in his efforts to mobilize more students against the fee.

“If there’s a need, I would be willing to partake,” she said.

Having created the petition, Sing said he now hopes to join forces with other groups on campus.

“I’m looking to partner with the Graduate Student Council and other student organizations from the College and from professional schools that allow students the option of monthly payment,” he said.

“I eventually hope to meet with President Faust and raise this issue with her,” he added.