Colleges, universities face lawsuits over tuition, fee refunds

VIDEO: Colleges and universities accused of refusing refunds

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A team of Lowcountry lawyers is taking on some of the country’s most prestigious universities and colleges for failing to refund tuition and fees to students following campus closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Anastopoulo Law Firm has filed class action complaints against nearly two dozen higher education institutions on behalf of students.

In general, the lawsuits claim the universities, which include the likes of Cornell, Penn State, and UC Berkeley, have failed to return any amount of tuition payments and other fees to students who have been forced to complete this semester’s credit hours online.

“Common sense would dictate that the level and quality of instruction an educator can provide through an online format is lower than the level and quality of instruction that can be provided in person,” one complaint states. “Moreover, the true college experience encompasses much more than just the credit hours. The college experience consists of: Face to face interaction with professors, mentors, and peers; Access to facilities such as computer labs, study rooms, laboratories, libraries, etc; Student governance and student unions; Extra-curricular activities, groups, intramurals, etc; Student art, cultures, and other activities; Social development and independence; Hands on learning and experimentation; and Networking and mentorship opportunities.”

The lawsuits also claim the students were required to pay mandatory fees to attend in person classes to cover things like student services, health services, and transit services. However, because many college attendees were forced to leave their campuses, including their on-campus housing, none of the resources those fees covered were usable for those students.

“As a result of being moved off campus, Plaintiff and members of the proposed Fees Class no longer have the benefit of the services for which these fees have been paid. For example, the student centers, computer labs, wellness centers, and health centers are closed,” one lawsuit said.

The lawsuits are asking a judge to make the universities admit they wrongfully kept the money for tuition, fees and on-campus housing, as well as return the payments to students who were affected.

Overall, court documents claim the higher learning institutions should be capable returning the money because of their eligibility to receive federal stimulus from the CARES Act. Approximately $14 billion is set to be distributed to colleges and universities based upon enrollment. The federal legislation also requires that institutions must use at least half of the funds they receive to provide emergency financial aid grants to students for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19, according to those complaints.

The list of school suits, to date, include:

  • University of Colorado - Boulder
  • University of Miami
  • Drexel University
  • Columbia University
  • Pace University
  • Manhattan College
  • Cornell
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • UNC - Charlotte
  • UNC - Asheville
  • UNC - Wilmington
  • East Carolina University
  • UC Berkeley
  • Boston University Penn State
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • American University
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Indiana Univesity
  • Temple
  • Pennsylvania College of Technology

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