C.E.A. Reviews (1)
Following is the letter that we sent to CEA on 5 May 2013. The CEA response is also provided. Bottom line is They did not tell about these charges until 2.5 months after the trip ended, it took another 1.5 months to get the details, one of the receipts provided was dated 6weeks after the program ended (and three weeks after the next program session had started - new students in apartment!), and many stated Policies were not properly followed. In addition to this my daughter did not have heat in her apartment for 3-weeks during the stay. Each time we have brought this up we have gotten a difference response; First - there was no heat problem, Second - They cannot have heat above 66.2 degrees in Italy, Third - They cannot run heater for more than 10 hours a day in Italy. All I am requesting is for not to be charge the $178 I am said that are owed due to damages. If I do not succeed I am considering suing for 25% of the housing cost.
Letter to CEA
I am writing to make you aware of our extreme dissatisfaction with how your staff has handled the collection of additional fees associated with damage charges as a result of my daughter’s, [redacted], semester abroad in Florence Italy. What a horrible way to end such a phenomenal experience.
I have many issues and concerns related how this situation unfolded –
- The program ended on 15 December 2012. We did not hear any mention of owing money additional money until ~2 ½ months after she returned.
o On 6 March I got an e-mail from CEA saying we had an outstanding balance; this e-mail also threatened a “$300 late fee”. I immediately responded, stating “We are very surprised to hear that we have an outstanding balance. Unfortunately, we no longer remember the password to our 'MyCEA Account. Please provide details of the bill along with information on how to pay (who to make check out to, mailing address, etc...) – I never got a response to this e-mail.
o As this process has continued we have gotten several additional e-mails that threaten a “$300 late fee”.
- My daughter (and her roommates) were initially told only that they owed ~$250 each. It took another month to get any detail (now 3 ½ months since the program ended!) on what they were being billed for. They were all extremely surprised by all of the charges (with the exception of a bidet).
o Note that they were charged for a few items that had been documented as damaged when they had moved in.
- It was another week (now close to 4 months) when they received additional detail that there was a 2nd broken bidet that they were being charged for.
- Your Policies state – “The CEA resident staff will make every effort to inform you of any fees or charges that will be withheld from the program deposit prior to departure”. I do not feel that a “reasonable effort” was made to inform my daughter of these additional charges, nor were the charges presented to her in a timely or understandable manner.
o Additionally, your policy mentions that charges will be “withheld from the program deposit”. Apparently, there was mention of a ~$300 deposit during the orientation when my daughter arrived in Italy. Was this not a deposit for potential damages to the apartment? We have asked this question, but never gotten a clear response?
- One receipt that was finally sent to us for the replacement of a bidet was dated 30 January 2013. This is 6 weeks after the program ended and 2-3 weeks into your winter session program. Many receipts provided had “sticky notes” attached with additional charges.
o “dye” on 8-sets of fitted sheets booked under “kitchen repairs”? A receipt for repairs 6 weeks after the program ended. Hand written sticky notes provided as receipts? Charges for items that were reported damaged when they moved in? Discovering new “detail” of charges (2nd bidet) almost 4 months after the program ended?
o Please try to view this from our perspective. Can you understand why this seems suspicious / fraudulent to us?
- I can go on and on and on with additional information included in e-mail exchanges.
On top of all of all this, my daughter had no heat in her apartment for 3-4 weeks during her stay. This is absolutely unacceptable. When we mentioned this, we were told that they had “increased the heat each time they requested it, and usually quite within reasonable timing. But yes, the heating in Italy has to be regulated at certain temperatures not above 19 degrees C. (66.2 F).”
The girls were cold; very, very cold. As we have told your staff, my wife was in Florence for ~10 days. She was at the apartment several times. She physically witnessed the apartment temperature and the girls dressed in down coats and ear muffs to stay warm. My wife was there, it was not 66.2 degrees in the apartment - there was no heat – period. To be honest, the response that your staff provided on this issue was insulting.
Please understand how frustrating and exhausting this process has been for us - to learn of charges for damages 2.5 months after the girls returned, to take another month to get any detail; and to finally learn that there were actually two (2) broken bidets 4 months after the conclusion of the program. To be frank, we feel that this entire process has been handled extremely unprofessionally. Additionally, it has not been handled in accordance with your own stated Policies. At this point we strongly feel that all charges to [redacted]’s account should be waived.
We thank you in advance for your timely consideration in this matter. Please feel free to contact me or my wife if you have any additional questions.
Response from CEA
Dear Mr. and Mrs. [redacted],
I am [redacted], Site Specialist Supervisor and direct manager of Meghan Wagner. Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback about some of yours and [redacted] experiences with CEA, specifically related to outstanding charges on [redacted] account and our communication responses. CEA strives to provide quality academic programs abroad for students and we do not want any miscommunication on our part to be a reflection of [redacted] experience in Florence or how she should remember her CEA study abroad program.
The CEA executive and management teams have carefully reviewed your case and the supporting information you provided in your letter to [redacted] on 5 May 2013. Like you, we would like to find a solution to the situation and move forward, and remain fair and consistent to our policies and to the other students who have also agreed to our policies and procedures.
To address your most recent concerns, below are some additional details to help explain the situation and CEA’s policies.
· We agree that 90 days after a conclusion of a program can be a long time to learn about outstanding charges and any additional fees. CEA makes our best effort to collect any incidental billing information as quickly as possible after the end of a program. However, when it comes to charges at the end of the program, we rely on a variety of housing vendors, school partners, and landlords, to give reports of final costs to us. Often times, CEA is also involved in negotiations and clarifications prior to charges ever being assessed to students’ accounts and we work to be advocates for our students. While CEA informs students of outstanding charges prior to departure in items in which we have a control over and immediate visibility over, that typically does not include charges related to housing. It then takes additional time to report fees for every student to the CEA Home Office and assess charges to students’ accounts. For these reasons, we communicate at least a 90 day processing timeline within our CEA Policies.
· Our systems employ automatic emails based on account status and account balance. It is regrettable that you received emails about [redacted] account and potential late fees when you were already in communication with our staff and we did not prevent these automatic emails from continuing. We are addressing this to avoid potential miscommunications like this in the future.
· It was during this communication with one of [redacted] roommates that we were able to discover responsibility for specific charges, and agreed with all roommates that CEA would waive charges for broken dishes and lamp and replacement of stained bed linens. These charges were discussed at housing checkout; however, our staff was only able to conduct a cursory inspection of the apartment at that time. Some of the additional charges, including the broken bidet, were not discovered until a more thorough inspection had been completed after the girls returned home. The potential for additional charges is explained during the checkout process and within our policies.
· We understand confusion regards the charges for the bidet. Initially, the charge was divided equally between all 7 girls which is standard procedure when specific responsibility for damages cannot be identified to a particular student. After discussing the charge with the roommates, it became clear who was sharing the space for that bathroom. One of the roommates emailed CEA to inform us that they were unable to identify exactly how the bidet broke, so the four of them would take responsibility equally for the damage. CEA therefore reassessed the charges based on shared responsibility for the broken bidet amongst 4 students instead of the initial 7.
· In addressing your concern about a security deposit, this was mentioned in error to your daughter and her roommates. [redacted] participated in a specially arranged program with [redacted] which has customized payment policies where we provide participants special and discounted pricing. Within the agreed upon contract, this discounted program waives the additional $300 security deposit most other CEA students are responsible for paying. Because of the discount and waiver of the security deposit, it puts the onus on the student to submit payment for additional charges that may be assessed throughout the semester or as a result of housing property damages after the semester has ended.
· I also understand that there was concern regarding the heating of the apartment. Italy has a regulated heating system throughout the entire country which is dictated by Italian law. Heat is regulated to a point where it can only be on for a limited amount of time each day. The apartment where [redacted] resided was restricted to a maximum of 10 hours of heat per day. Additionally, each time [redacted] or her roommates submitted a complaint regarding heating, our staff attempted to help the girls be more comfortable.
Upon examination of several of your points in your letter, we recognize rooms for improvement in our communication processes for notifying our students about additional fees on their accounts. Your feedback is important to us; we strive to offer great service and quality programming from beginning to end, especially for our Alumni who have spent a significant amount of time with us. We will be addressing your concerns and will be working to improve upon our communications and reporting for the future.
This case was reviewed in depth with both our international team and our Phoenix office. Our customer experience is very important to us, and our intention is for everyone to always have a positive and growing experience with CEA. CEA does have a responsibility to all of its participants to provide a safe and sound well-rounded program, however, we also have a responsibility to be fair and consistent with our policies and procedures. As accountability was taken by all of the girls who shared that bathroom, CEA has appropriately and accurately assessed incidental billing charges to each roommate, and some of her roommates have already paid and cleared their account balances. Your current account balance is accurate and will need to be paid. We will not be assessing any additional late fees and we will adjust the due date for the charges to June 14, 2013 to allow you a flexible time frame to submit payment for the amount of $173.00. However, please note that [redacted]’s transcript for her program will not be mailed until payment is received and cleared.
We would like to move forward, as we know you do with this situation. I hope that all of your concerns have been addressed and explanations provided where there might have been confusion. Please feel free to reach out to me personally should you have any further questions or need further clarification on any of the points above. We sincerely hope that [redacted] had a positive experience with us in Italy and wish her all the best in completing her academic studies.
Site Specialist Supervisor
CEA Global Education
Toll Free: [redacted] Ext. [redacted]
Tel: [redacted], Ext. [redacted]