In an effort to assist cash-strapped students, Northern Virginia Community College is introducing an interest-free payment plan this month for fall semester registration.

The plan, which will give students two to four months to pay a semester's tuition and fees, will be administered by FACTS (Fast Automatic Cash Transfer System) Management Co. of Lincoln, Neb. FACTS says it is the most-used third-party tuition payment plan in the country, with nearly 3,000 educational institutions and 450,000 students or families as customers.

Previously, students had to pay tuition in full upon enrollment. Tuition at NVCC recently went up to $67.68 a credit hour, or $1,015.20 a semester for a full-time student.

Alison Baker, the college's vice president of financial and administrative services, said four-year universities have had similar payment plans for some time because of their significantly higher tuition. She said NVCC needs one now because of the common belief that "when tuition is substantially more than a car payment, then people have trouble coming up with the money all at once."

"We have a lot of students who are working and studying at the same time, so coming up with $1,000 all at one time can be very hard on working families who are trying to advance their education," Baker said.

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in Virginia and the second-largest community college in the country. It has more than 64,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge and through its Extended Learning Institute.

Students must enroll online for the FACTS tuition payment plan by going to the NVCC Web site, Starting Tuesday, a link there will direct visitors to information on the new plan. Payments can be made by automatic withdrawal from a checking or savings account or by credit card.