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Surprise Fees Leave UMass Lowell Nursing Students Stressed and Scrambling

(Photo courtesy of UML) “Hand grabs flying money.”

Eric Schultz
Connector Editor

On February 7, UMass Lowell undergraduate nursing students were informed of a new $792 ATI Complete Package fee with little warning. They were officially informed of the new February 29 deadline (now April 1) of said fee for continuing access to Assessment Technologies Institute, the Nursing Department’s learning management platform. Although ATI’s partnership with the Nursing Department was created to help and ultimately save nursing students money compared to previous costs, many students are currently worried about having only five weeks to pay this fee and some are frustrated with the lack of overall communication. 

The source of this payment comes from the River Hawk Shop having paid for students’ ATI access in January so they would not lose their access, meaning that the $792 payment is more of a reimbursement. Its earliest mention was on October 30, 2023, in which an email sent on behalf of UMass Lowell Clinical Professor Laurie Soroken, the Director of the Baccalaureate Nursing Program, stated that the $792 payment “…will be billed to students in Spring 2024 and payable through the bookstore.” This payment had then gone unmentioned in any email correspondence to students for approximately four months, until students were told on February 7 that they needed to make the payment by February 27. The River Hawk Shop had been left out of the loop on communication to students as well. Regional Manager Crystal Leopard said “This information was not communicated by the bookstore… [w]e were under the impression that it was communicated in the month of December.”  

Although the Nursing Department was not responsible for establishing this payment plan, nursing students still wish that they had been more transparent with the details and specific payment deadline of the ATI Complete Package fee and received an idea from the River Hawk Shop of what the payment process would have looked like. Frustration and stress have been a recurring theme with nursing students, who have all wished to remain anonymous. One student said that the department “…wasn’t necessarily very upfront or forward about it, and not having those prices put out on the website either is kind of a shock because you can’t even [plan to save for it].” In addition to this frustration and stress, students have also expressed sadness at the academic implications that come with being unable to make this payment. Another nursing student said, “Many of my friends have expressed to me that they now must worry about whether they will be able to stay in the nursing program here at UML due to finances.” 

To complicate things further, the ATI Complete Testing Package fee is due through the bookstore and was not billed to students on their tuition bills. As a result, students cannot use scholarships, grants, loans, or other financial aid programs to pay this fee in a way that could work with their financial realities. Within the confines of the bookstore’s payment process, there is currently no payment process available to students and a UMass Lowell bookstore representative has confirmed that there will not be one set up for the spring semester. When asked about the future of this fee, Professor Soroken said “As ATI Complete package serves as and replaces textbooks for nursing students, it will continue to be paid through the bookstore.” Nursing students have been left needing to procure almost $800 out-of-pocket. 

At the end of the day, nursing students do understand that fees (including out-of-pocket ones) are bound to happen and only want more transparency and time surrounding them. As one student said, “…we totally know that we need to pay for our resources just like every other student. But when you don’t create a payment plan or any other options, you know, it kind of creates that like shock feeling for a lot of students and a lot of financial stress.” Fortunately, nursing students have made sure to make their voices heard as a collective in the hopes that the bookstore will change the fee payment policies and they have since found some success. After speaking up about their discontent and creating a “” petition that has nearly 400 signatures, the Nursing Department asked the River Hawk Shop to extend the deadline to April 1. However, that does not mean that this issue has necessarily been resolved. An extra month and a half can mitigate some of the immediate financial stress, but nursing students are still forced to approach a very rigid deadline.  

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