Charged for an online class I didn’t take

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By Christopher Elliott

Rhonda Smith’s daughter decides not to take a class at the University of Phoenix, but there’s just a small matter of her bill. Does she still have to pay it, even though she didn’t take the course?

Question

My daughter registered online for a class with the University of Phoenix and filled out a form for financial aid. She decided that the online course was not for her and never took the class.

We have been trying for months to get someone at the school to acknowledge she never took the class. Now she wants to go to school and she can’t get financial aid until she settles her $1,000 bill with the university.

It is not a lot of money, but it’s the principle. She told them she wanted to cancel. She never took the class. But the university keeps giving her the runaround. Can you help? — Rhonda Smith, Norcross, Ga.

Answer

If your daughter didn’t attend class, she shouldn’t have to pay for it. But when you’re taking a class online, how do you define “attend”?

The university’s definition for the classes your daughter was enrolled in was that she had to “post at least one message to any of the course forums on two separate days during the online week.” Deadlines for attendance are based on Mountain Standard Time, and attendance is tracked automatically in all online courses.

I asked the university about your daughter’s classes and in a follow-up message to you, it said its investigation showed that your daughter had “attended” her online course, at least under its definition. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I asked you to explain your dispute in writing, and a university representative noted your daughter actually owed $218 — far less than she thought. The reason? The university offers a partial refund for incomplete courses. (Related: This is how your child can find a college concierge.)

Had you not made that inquiry, then your daughter might have thought she needed to pay the full tuition bill (yet another reason why you should always document your dispute in writing).

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Given the university’s slow response time to your daughter’s initial inquiry, I thought this case was worth escalating to a higher level for her. So I contacted the University of Phoenix on your behalf.

As a “goodwill” gesture, it zeroed out her bill – which, considering that your daughter never received the benefit of the class, is the right outcome.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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