Limited services available for Continuing Education students

By Anthony Rentsch

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

When mediation failed last spring between a University of Massachusetts student in the University Without Walls program and his ex-wife, a UMass graduate student, in regard to legal custody of their child, he went to the Student Legal Services Office for representation.

However, since Continuing and Professional Education students do not pay the equivalent of the undergraduate Student Activity Fee or the graduate senate tax – portions of both are allocated to Legal Services – the student, who wished to remain anonymous, was ineligible for its services. Even though Legal Services “cannot represent or advise two students against one another,” his ex-wife was able to receive representation because non-fee paying students are not “eligible students,” according to Legal Services policy.

In the end, the UWW student hired a private attorney and paid just under $10,000 in legal fees to receive shared legal and physical custody of his child.

Most concerning for the student was that he never had a chance to pay a fee to make him eligible for resources and services reserved for fee-paying students.

“I was never given an option to pay the fee,” he said. “I can’t say, ‘Hey, I’d like access to these resources.’”

According to Melanie DeSilva, director of Marketing, Communication and Recruitment for UWW, Continuing and Professional Education students are not allowed to pay the Activities Fee, the graduate senate tax or any equivalent fee, something that she would like to see changed.

“I would like students to have the option (of paying the fee and receiving the benefits),” she said.

“We want to keep the costs low for Continuing Education students, who are often people working full-time that don’t want extra fees for things they do not use,” she continued. “But some students would pay for it. We don’t want it to be required, but we want it as an option.”

Currently, Continuing and Professional Education students are offered a limited number of resources through the University, including academic support through the library and writing center, technical support from the Office of Information Technology, eligibility for financial aid and access to a few other support services, like Veteran’s Services and the Stonewall Center BGLQT Support Center.

Jill Dubnanksy, a student services coordinator at UWW, said Continuing and Professional Education students can also pay a discounted membership fee to access recreation facilities. All students in Massachusetts are also eligible to purchase health insurance.

DeSilva said there is uncertainty as to why Continuing and Professional Education students do not have the ability to pay a fee that allows them to access resources, such as SLSO, that their base fees do not cover.

She speculates that the answer lies somewhere in the difficulty of the logistics.

“There are two different fee structures for day-division and Continuing Education students,” she said. “Adding an optional fee takes extra work and some of the administration departments are short-staffed.”

DeSilva said that models for this type of optional fee do exist. Currently, undergraduate students have to choose a meal plan, as well as whether or not they wish to receive health insurance on SPIRE.

“We pride ourselves on being student-centered,” she said. “It would be nice if (our students) did have access to things like legal services.”

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected]