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Tuition bills to be sent only by e-mail

Starting in July, students will find bills from UNC not in their mailboxes but in their inboxes.

In an attempt to cut postage costs and create a more integrated administrative system, student bills for fall 2010 will only be available electronically through ConnectCarolina, not mailed home.

The switch could save the cashier’s office about $100,000 in annual costs, money that could be used to create office positions that could more directly interact with students.

But while electronic communication could save money, it remains to be seen whether the information will be communicated to the person paying the bills.

In the new system, students will be notified via UNC Webmail when bills are available online. They will then be able to log in to the ConnectCarolina Student Center to view those bills.

Administrators are confident that after implementing a new registration system with relatively few problems, communicating to students about how to view bills online and use the third-party system should be a swift process.

“We are impressed with how students handled registration,” said Debra Beller, information communications specialist for ConnectCarolina. “I think that kind of sets up a positive tone for students being able to pick up the changes.”

When it’s time to pay, students will be able to allow whoever pays the bill — usually parents — to view it using the Student Center. No one else can view the bill unless the student gives permission on the website.

The University is unable to notify parents directly about bills because doing so could violate students’ privacy if that student hasn’t given UNC permission to provide the information.

To help make communication smooth between students, parents and the University, administrators are working with the Office of New Student and Carolina Parent Programs to send out e-mails to parents.

Students will receive e-mails describing the new process in the coming week. Facebook and Twitter will also be used to help spread the word.

The University is also working to create a more predictable billing cycle, sending notifications around the middle of each month.

Still, it’s possible that students won’t relay the information to parents.

But they might just have to. If the bills don’t get paid, holds will be placed on student accounts that would keep them from registering for courses the next semester.

Southern Methodist University, a private university in Dallas with 11,000 students, uses a similar system. Representatives there indicated that communication problems existed in the beginning.

“The students are the only ones that are notified, so the parents call and are very upset that students didn’t let them know,” said Gina Conklin, who works with the IT help desk at SMU.

Freshman Elizabeth Henderson said she sees pros and cons in the new procedure.

“It could potentially lead to problems with tuition for students who neglect their e-mail,” she said. “But it could serve as good preparation for dealing with financial obligations in the future.”

Still, administrators see it as a positive change.

“We’re expecting students to be responsible adults, and this is another one of those ways in which they’ll have to do that,” Beller said. “They’ll have to make the system work for them.”

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