Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Tardy UTech leaves graduate facing student loan debt

Published:Sunday | March 18, 2018 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

Trevell Duncan is familiar with struggles and has determinedly sought her dreams, coming from a poor, humble background.

But the 26-year-old had no idea that the process of getting the University of Technology (UTech) to return the more than $200,000 it was overpaid on her behalf by the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB) in 2015 would have been one of her major struggles.

Duncan had borrowed a little over $560,000 from the SLB to complete her studies for the 2015-2016 academic year.

But then she received word that the National Commercial Bank, which had given her a partial scholarship before, was extending its financial contribution to her for the year.

She informed UTech and it was expected that it would automatically return the money to the SLB but, to make sure, Duncan decided to follow the process.

"I went to the finance department, because I know sometimes they can be a bit tardy, just to ensure that everything was going as planned. I explained to them that I am getting a sponsorship again and they confirmed with me that they received the money from NCB and the excess would be sent back to the SLB," Duncan told The Sunday Gleaner.

She then filled out a request form to formalise the process and was very disappointed to learn that money had not been returned to the SLB when she completed her studies in 2016.

"When I went back, I was assigned to another agent in the finance department, and they said I would not need to have a request to have this money returned. It would automatically be returned to the SLB once there is an excess, and the person proceeded to tear up the request form that I had filled out," said Duncan.

She was surprised to learn, from the SLB in November 2016, that the university still hadn't returned the money.

"I went back to UTech and they told me they used the money from my SLB account first, so the money was in my sponsor's account and I would need to do a request form again to have it sent over to the SLB."

Once again, the frustrated graduate filled out a form requesting that the excess money be sent back to the SLB.

Duncan said that she started making regular payments to the SLB as soon as she settled into a job, and went to the agency in December 2017 to discuss her arrears, only to learn that UTech had still not returned the money.

Duncan, who is a dental hygienist based in Ocho Rios, St Ann, travelled to the Corporate Area and again went to UTech, where she was told there was nothing to indicate that she had made any previous requests to have the money sent to the SLB.

Despite filling out her fourth request form on January 8, 2018, up to last week, UTech had still not returned the money.

 

GETTING THE RUN AROUND

 

"When I call UTech, all I get is a runaround, if I even get through to somebody, because most of the time when I call, I hear that the person is not there, they are on lunch break," said Duncan, who has already paid more than $399,000 to SLB and should be debt-free, but she cannot celebrate until UTech pays their portion of the money.

"Right now, time is of the essence, because you know your interest is going up at the SLB if you don't pay," said Duncan, who does not want to see her name published among the SLB's delinquent borrowers.

Last week, associate vice-president for advancement at UTech, Hector Wheeler, told The Sunday Gleaner that having contacted Duncan and investigated her claim, he confirmed that she had formally requested that the excess money be returned to the SLB.

"It is very, very unfortunate. It is not the norm," said Wheeler.

"It seems to me that there was some sort of mislay in her actual application," said Wheeler, as he added, "the application did not get to the right person until January."

Wheeler said that he has since offered an apology on behalf of UTech to Duncan and would be writing to the SLB to sort out the issue.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com