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News10NBC Investigates: RIT suing for $1.2 million in unpaid tuition, court awards $293,000 in interest and fees

Berkeley Brean
Updated: November 26, 2019 05:24 AM
Created: November 25, 2019 10:43 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — News10NBC is investigating the dozens and dozens of lawsuits filed by RIT against some of its former students.

In our first report, we showed you how the university is currently suing 159 former students for more than $1.2 million dollars for unpaid tuition and loans. 

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Now one of those students says she is so traumatized by her experience at RIT, she asked News10NBC to hide her face and change her voice.

"From the moment I came home that year I was struggling from job to job to job," Jennifer said. 

That's not her real name. I met Jennifer at her apartment outside Syracuse. Jennifer says as a freshman at RIT four years ago she suffered a traumatic experience with another student. She says it sent her into a depression.

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "What impact did that have on you?"

Jennifer: "I ended up flunking out my last semester."

Her career at RIT was over, but not her contact with RIT. 

In May, Jennifer was sued by the school for $7,955.50 in outstanding tuition. 

Brean: "The court agrees. You have to pay that money. In fact, they added $2,000 in interest so now it's more than $10,000. How are you going to pay that?"

Jennifer: "I'm not going to. I'm going to file for bankruptcy, so I don't have to deal with it and I can put away this misery I got from being there."

Jennifer is one of 159 former RIT students getting sued by the school for unpaid tuition and loans. 

Noah Pfluke's lawsuit showed up in March.

In the lawsuit, RIT says he owes them almost $11,476.00 in tuition.

"You have a lot of students who graduate with lots of debt but at least they get a degree with it," Pfluke said. "I don't have any degree. But it looks like I'm getting the debt."

For the last three months, I have been tracking these cases.

From the start of the year to the end of October, I found 37 lawsuits by RIT against former students. In all of 2018, the number of complaints was 122. 

About half of the lawsuits want unpaid tuition. The other half go after unpaid federal loans called Perkins Loans. 

In that same period of time, following schools did not sue once: 

  • University of Rochester
  • St. John Fisher College
  • Nazareth College
  • Roberts Wesleyan College
  • Cornell University
  • Ithaca College
  • St. Bonaventure University
  • Hobart William Smith Colleges
  • Clarkson University
  • St. Lawrence University
  • Le Moyne College

I searched 61 other private colleges and universities in New York State and there is no record of any them suing a former student over tuition. 

There is no record of any SUNY school suing a former student. 

On Oct. 9, I emailed RIT. 

My questions were: why are you suing former students? And what's the value of getting this money? 

On Oct. 29, RIT told me it was not going to answer any questions on camera. 

In a lengthy statement RIT says it sues in state supreme court because it is the "court of general jurisdiction, it allows us to serve the judgment in any location within the state." Part of the statement also says, "our ability to collect on defaulted student account balances recently provided the equivalent of approximately $18,000 each in aid and scholarships for nearly 20 students."

Click here to read RIT's complete statement

The total amount of unpaid tuition and loans RIT is seeking in the lawsuits is more than $1.2 million. The lawsuits charge 9% interest. State Supreme Court records show in just the lawsuits where RIT has won a judgment, the court also awarded RIT approximately $293,000 in interest and fees. 

Brean: "People need to pay their bills. If the money is owed, RIT is entitled to the money, right?"

Jennifer: "Yeah but people, we need food to eat to survive. We need our car for transportation. The job economy pay rate sucks."

Brean: "So you knew you owed the money. You just didn't have the money."

Jennifer: "I didn't have the money. And I still don't have the money."

RIT is not the only school in New York State suing for tuition and loans. 

In the last two years, Syracuse University sued 11 students. 

Medaille College in Buffalo sued 23. 

The New York Institute of Technology in New York City and Long Island sued 55. 

We asked those schools to explain why they sue, and they either declined or did not respond.

Here is the list of every school with a record of suing at least one student since January 2018.

Colleges and universities suing for outstanding tuition in New York State Supreme Court between Jan. 1, 2019 and Oct. 17, 2019:

  • Adelphia: 3
  • Syracuse: 8 
  • Yeshiva: 1
  • St. Joseph's: 1
  • NY Institute of Technology: 10
  • Hilbert: 1
  • Wagner: 2
  • Niagara: 1
  • Touro: 1
  • Medaille: 22 (although the complaints do not indicate tuition)
  • Hofstra: 11
  • Manhattanville: 1
  • Union College: 1

Colleges and universities suing for outstanding tuition in New York State Supreme Court between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2018:

  • Syracuse: 3
  • St. Joseph's: approximately 3
  • NY Institute of Technology: 45 (41 tuition, 4 note debt)
  • Wagner: 2
  • Niagara: 1 (note debt)
  • Medaille: 1 (although the complaint does not indicate tuition)
  • Hofstra: 2
  • Union College: 1

We asked local colleges and universities how they deal with delinquent tuition and loans and why they have not sued. 

The U of R, Nazareth College and Roberts Wesleyan College said they use collection agencies. The U of R says it makes students sign an agreement to pay what they owe. 

The U of R says, "there is hardly ever a need to pursue the costly endeavor of hiring attorneys for legal action." Click here for the U of R Policy for the Collection of Tuition and Fees.

Nazareth College told me it "typically does not pursue legal action against current or former students for delinquent tuition."

Roberts Wesleyan College said: 

"Consistent with what we believe occurs at other area colleges, at Roberts, we work very hard to help students find every last dollar of aid they're eligible to receive. Our goal is to help create an affordable and accessible transformational education. We work closely with our students to help them understand their financial commitments and avoid unpaid balances. Although we do work with collection agencies on delinquent accounts, to date we have not seen a need to take a student to court."


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