Adrian College faces controversy over action on unpaid account balances

Adrian College received media attention earlier this year, attracting controversy after an email warned students with outstanding monetary balances to the college that their meal plans could be suspended if those balances were not paid off. The email was met with outrage, and some students contacted local news stations to voice their concerns. 

Iris Sorrell, a senior, became very concerned when one of her friends and roommates was affected by the meal plan shutoff.

“I was very upset, knowing how much our meal plans cost, and knowing that they were still going to be expected to cover those costs,” Sorrell said. 

After finding out about the meal plan shutoffs, Sorrell pulled together resources to contribute to the Caine Cupboard, a free meal pantry in the student center. Alumni, students, and professors reached out to her to donate.

“I understand that this is in the handbook, but I don’t think your food should be taken away. It should start with a warning, food should be the very last thing,” Sorrell says.

Jerry Wright, Vice President of Business Affairs and CFO of Adrian College, paints a much different picture. Wright, a graduate of Michigan State University and the Loyola University of Chicago has served at Adrian College for 14 years. He is in charge of Business Affairs, Student Business Services, Human Resources, Plant Services, Information Technology, and Auxiliary Services: everything from campus maintenance to dining and more. Wright describes the email as a call to action for students who had not paid off large account balances. 

“The facts are that the administration, through multiple department and reach-out efforts, attempted to contact students who had large account balances, and whom, in many cases, had not made payment towards their account balances in many months,” Wright said.

Wright pointed out that students who met in person with representatives from the college to develop a payment plan did not have their account suspended, and that the number of students who had their meal plan suspended is a small fraction of the total student body.

“Adrian College cannot subsidize the cost of education for all enrolled students mostly on the backs of those students who are paying their bills and meeting their fiscal obligations,” Wright said.

Indeed, many colleges and universities today are facing turbulent times and grave consequences of a larger shift in how younger generations are beginning to think about and interact with higher education. Many young men and women increasingly do not see college as something worth putting the time and money into pursuing, leading to many colleges downsizing or even closing.

In Michigan alone, Finlandia University announced recently that it would be closing its doors due to low enrollment and financial difficulties, and the nearby Albion College is being investigated by the State of Michigan for allegedly using its endowment fund to cover budget deficits.

Adrian College itself has historically dealt with financial difficulties. 

According to A History of Adrian College by Dr. A. Douglas MacNaughton, much of Adrian’s early history as a college consisted of college agents struggling to solicit donations to keep the college afloat. Even today, as colleges face new and unprecedented challenges, a number of institutions will likely have to make similarly difficult decisions. 

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