PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An Oregon family was shocked when they were hit with out-of-state college tuition bills for their son who is attending a college in Salem.
Abraham Garibay is a freshman at Chemeketa Community College and is studying to be a dental hygienist. He was born and raised in Oregon and graduated from The Dalles High School.
He was charged out-of-state tuition for both fall and winter terms. But his mom, Carmen Ramirez, hit a wall trying to help her own son due to federal student privacy laws.
“You can’t get on the phone and actually talk to the person, you know,” Ramirez said. “So it’s like I have to go to him and then he has to go to the other person. But when it comes back to me it’s not the same information, you know, as hearing it from the actual person.”
Ramirez said her son had no idea why he was charged out-of-state tuition and was told he could not get a refund.
KOIN 6 News sat down with Marie Hulett, the executive director of institutional advancement at Chemeketa Community College. Having put five kids through college herself, Hulett said she understands how confusing the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application and process is for students and parents.
Hulett explained that federal student privacy laws prevent parents from accessing certain information.
“A parent might disagree and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m paying for this. It’s within my rights’ but actually it’s not. It’s all up to the students,” she said.
Under federal law it is up to students to log in to their personal profile on their college website to add or revoke authorizations about who can see what confidential information when it comes to grades and finances.
Some colleges, including Chemeketa, also have their own websites and policies leaving it up to each student to add or revoke authorizations about who can see what confidential information when it comes to grades and finances.
“Once the student gives that OK, then a parent is going to get all of the same notifications that the student gets,” Hulett said. “So as soon as a parent notices, ‘Hey, wait a minute, there’s something wrong with this bill’ they can take action immediately.”
Garibay’s case appeared to be unique and no other students were wrongly charged out-of-state tuition, according to Hulett.
“But the very cool thing about this all happening — and we try to make everything a learning experience since we’re an institution of learning — is we have instituted a new policy now where any student who is listed as out-of-state we’re going to touch base with them and say, ‘Is this correct?'” Hulett explained.
Garibay’s charges were fixed to accurately reflect his status as an Oregonian. He said the correction was a relief and he was refunded for the extra charges.
There are some important lessons in his story for families. Hulett said new students should have a parent, grandparent or other trusted adult be involved in the financial process and that it’s important for students to check the correct box that grants adults the full access they need.