UM plans to move up its tuition deadline to a week after classes begin, which may be sooner than some students can afford.

In the past five years, the final tuition deadline has varied from about a week before to more than 60 days after classes started, according to data from Paul Lasiter, vice president of operations and finance. Beginning this fall, UM plans to move the initial deadline to a week after the first day of classes.

Lasiter said in an email he does not know why the deadlines were moved back because he started at UM last year. He said later deadlines meant students could find they were unable to pay after committing to classes and financial aid.

“Our payment deadlines are way too lax,” Lasiter said. “It’s doing a disservice to students in a lot of cases.”

Ryan Weeks, a junior, works as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service and said an earlier deadline could mean more stress for student firefighters.

Weeks, who is president of the UM Student Association for Fire Ecology and Management, said many firefighters work as much as a week and a half into the school year. He said assignments can last two to three weeks and giving them up could mean not earning hundreds or thousands of dollars.

“I don’t think that would be very fair to firefighters because usually their main income is that summer job,” Weeks said. “For me, the transition between fire season and school is hard enough as it is.”

 In 2017, a record wildfire season for Montana, UM extended deadlines for student firefighters, according to its website. Weeks said he would support a program to help students who need to delay paying tuition, as moving up the deadline could make it difficult for firefighters to pay on time.

Student veterans have also had issues, including being dropped from classes after not receiving their VA benefits in time, according to Shay Caldwell with the UM VETS Office.

Cathy Cole, vice president for enrollment and strategic communication, said UM would put a process in place to help groups like firefighters and veterans. She said until then, students with tuition issues should contact her directly.

“We will work with those student groups on a case by case basis, and any student that has any type of hardship because the deadline moves up need only send me an email,” Cole said.

Discussions to move up the deadline began February 2019, according to Cole. She said an earlier deadline would provide better enrollment data, which could determine which classes would be taught and which sections would be combined.

“It just prolonged a process that didn’t need to be prolonged,” Cole said. “We will have all our ducks in a row, so students can come to campus and simply not worry about anything.”

Associated Students of the University of Montana President Abbigail Belcher planned to meet with Cole and Lasiter this month.

“Right now, I think I’m most concerned about the ability for Financial Aid to be able to process all of the student scholarships in time,” Belcher said.

Taylor Gregory, an ASUM senator, said financial aid could also cause problems for students who are studying abroad like him. He said when he returned this spring he needed his grades from his study abroad institution to receive financial aid, and he didn’t get a transcript until mid-January.

Gregory said if the deadline was earlier, he might have had to pay tuition without financial aid, which he could not have afforded. 

Director of Financial Aid Emily Williamson said in an email that students can tell the office about pending aid or scholarships through Cyberbear, email or in person. The office could then prevent late fees or dropping the student until the 15th day of classes.