Students must return refunds

More than 140 medical students are getting an unwelcome start to their senior years at the Medical College of Georgia - a demand to pay back thousands of dollars.

The president of the 2008 class said Tuesday that many are "extremely upset" and will have a hard time paying back what they considered a legitimate refund on tuition.

MCG Provost Barry Goldstein said the dispute centers on a refund given to the students for last summer.

MCG was switching information systems at the time, he said. A student in that class who was only going part time was mistakenly charged as a full-time student and received a refund when he complained, Dr. Goldstein said. When some full-time students also requested a refund, they inadvertently got one, too, and somehow the decision was extended to others, he said.

The average refund was $2,961, and 147 in the class should not have received it, he said. The refunds left MCG between $400,000 and $500,000 in the hole.

The exact nature of the problem wasn't discovered until an internal audit.

"It kind of was a series of errors and communication issues, unfortunately," he said.

Class President Varun Bhalla said the first indication there was a problem was when some students received a certified letter, if they were home to sign for it, on Saturday. Others, like him, found out through classmates or through an e-mail.

"The class is very upset that something like this went through," he said Tuesday. "And we feel like the explanations that are being given to us aren't satisfactory."

The students spent part of the summer in a student-designed review class for national boards, where faculty members volunteered time, then began their third-year rotations in July, he said.

"We were given the refund; we were never given an explanation as to why that refund was given by the university," he said. Nor were they ever notified or asked for input on the investigation.

Dr. Goldstein said there will be a series of town-hall meetings and an e-mail address for students to ask questions. They will have a year to pay the money, and the university will work with them on payment plans.

"We're extremely sorry that this is going to inconvenience the students and put an additional burden on them," he said.

Mr. Bhalla said the students are still hoping to talk the school out of demanding the money back or at least gain a better understanding of why it happened.

"The overwhelming majority of the students in our class are very upset and feel like they were taken advantage of and kept uninformed and right now don't have the money or the means to pay this debt back," he said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

THE IMPACT:

The Medical College of Georgia found a shortfall of $400,000 to $500,000 after 147 students inadvertently received tuition refunds.