A bursar is a college or university official who is responsible for overseeing student billing and payments. He or she deals with student accounts, issuing statements to students to keep them apprised of their outstanding bills, payment histories, and other financial issues. The bursar usually supervises an office which includes a number of employees. It is usually impossible for a single person to handle all of the student accounts for an educational institution, as accounts can get quite complex.
The position of bursar, meaning “treasurer of a college,” dates to the 1500s. The word originates from the Latin bursarius, or “purse-bearer,” referencing the fact that bursars hold the purse of the institutions they work for, managing student accounts. A college also usually has a chief financial officer who oversees all financial matters for a college, including receipt of grant monies for college projects, payroll administration, and a variety of other issues.
The office of the bursar keeps close track of all of the students enrolled or currently taking leave from an educational institution. Working with the financial aid office, it determines how much money students owe for tuition, housing, dining contracts, health insurance, and associated fees. The bursar's office accepts funds from student lenders, applying those payments to the student's outstanding account and providing students with refund checks for any excess funds, and it also takes scholarship money along with direct payments from students.
An individual student account can be very complicated. Each account starts out with a varying amount payable, depending on the student's standing in the school, and the types of school services he or she is using. The amount payable is reduced by the amount of funds the bursar has received on the student's behalf, including student loan disbursements and scholarships, to generate a statement which either has a balance due or indicates that the student is owed a refund.
For students with substantial balances, the bursar may work with the student to develop a payment plan, rather than demanding a balance in full. Bursars also help students with tax issues, issuing tax forms which may be required by law and helping students access the tax credits and benefits they are entitled to. People who work in the bursar's office generally have accounting experience, coupled with a knowledge of computer systems used to keep track of student accounts, and a knowledge of issues unique to education, such as how student loans work, and which tax benefits are available to students.