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College Students Sue for Tuition Refunds Due to COVID Campus Closures

‘The value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished….’

Columbia University Offers Illegal Students Legal Aid, 'Stress Management' Resources 1
Columbia University / PHOTO: Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines

(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) College students aren’t getting the college experience this year thanks to Wuhan virus-related campus closures. But universities have taken their money anyway.

Now, students are fighting back.

In North Carolina, for example, class-action lawsuits have been filed against UNC-Charlotte and the state university system in an attempt to claw back thousands of dollars per student for lost tuition and fees.

The lawsuits seek prorated damages given that classes were shifted to online forums rather than outright canceled. The lack of access to professors, multi-million-dollar labs, libraries, technology, extracurricular activities and events, and more, does not justify exorbitant tuition and fees, they say.

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But the university system is largely unsympathetic.

Earlier this month, the higher-education bureaucracy’s president issued a memo stating, “universities should not consider refunds of other fees beyond spring semester housing and dining, and tuition fees for summer classes.”

For many students, the fee-without-service scenario is exacerbated by the fact that they’re paying for classes with student loans. Not only did they borrow to pay for overpriced online classes, but interest will be attached at a future date.

That’s no insignificant matter. College tuition and fees have skyrocketed over the past decade, leading to a punishing student debt crisis that now stands at $1.4 trillion.

But North Carolina universities are no exception. Students at Drexel University in Philadelphia and the University of Miami in Florida have also filed class-action lawsuits.

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“There are two classes that aren’t even using the live-lecture format,” said Grainger Rickenbaker, a freshman at Drexel and lead plaintiff in a class-action suit against the university.

“It almost feels that I’m just tuning in for a podcast. It doesn’t really feel like the full classroom experience,” he said about the $54,500-a-year private research university.

Drexel administrators told students last month that there would be no discounted or refunded tuition or fees despite the shift to e-learning. Normally, online distance-learning classes cost up to 40 percent less than in-class credits, according to ABC News.

Undergraduate tuition and fees at the University of Miami cost about $51,930 a year. The corresponding lawsuit alleges, “the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished.”

The nation’s largest state university system is also under fire.

In addition to lost tuition, class action lawsuits targeting the University of California and the California State University system are seeking refunds for college gym memberships, and health and student centers where in-person services have been canceled.

Both lawsuits were filed in federal courts on Monday on behalf of 700,000 students.

A spokesman for the California State University system told higher-education website EdSource that it will “vigorously defend against [its] lawsuit.”

In all, more than a dozen other universities, including Michigan State, Columbia, Purdue, Colorado and Arizona State, have been besieged by lawsuits from angry students and their families.

In some cases, the schools also came under fire for accepting federal taxpayer subsidies from the recent $2.2 trillion CARES Act appropriations, which were earmarked for costs associated with students and the transition to online classes.

The higher education defense is that the Wuhan virus isn’t the fault of universities and the institution has suffered financial losses as well.

But that reasoning doesn’t cut it as far as many parents are concerned.

“The university’s economic challenges are no different and no more important than anyone else’s,” said Kelly Gibson, whose son attends Arizona State University and is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the school.

“They have no right to keep money for services they are no longer providing,” she said.

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