University attorneys have said the lawsuits are misguided and unlikely to succeed.
Students who’ve been forced to take online classes amidst the coronavirus outbreaks have filed lawsuits against their respective schools in a bid to recoup tuition costs.
According to The Wall Street Journal, both complaints are aspiring class actions. In each case, students say they’ve been forced to pay tuition and accommodation costs for an online education they hadn’t anticipated.
And students at both schools have reason to be upset: between class fees, meal plans and dormitories, attending either university can cost upwards of $70,000 per year.
The lawsuit is novel, if not unexpected. As the Journal notes, schools across the country have offered partial refunds for students who had to vacate on-campus housing in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Michigan State University, for instance, has pledged to pay more than $1,000 to residential students willing to move off college grounds by mid-April.
Comparatively few schools, however, have returned any portion of tuition fees.
But, even as students have started petitions demanding recompense, university attorneys maintain their clients are under no obligation to return tuition.
“The students are going to have an uphill battle unless a school has actually shut down and they’re not getting credit,” James Keller, co-chair of the higher education practice at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP, told the WSJ. “The basic contractual agreement is, I pay tuition, and if I satisfy academic requirements, you give me credit. That’s still happening.”
The Wall Street Journal notes that students at more than 200 colleges nationwide have filed petitions for tuition reimbursement.
“With the recent record increase in unemployment, it is unreasonable for a non-profit organization to cash in on education they are no longer adequately providing,” says one Change.org petition, written by students at St. John’s University in New York City.
Paul Deutschmann, a St. John’s student, told the Wall Street Journal that the quality of his education has decreased since courses went online.
“Some of the classes are a joke,” Deutschmann said. “You’re pretty much teaching yourself from a textbook.”
One lawsuit, filed against Purdue University, recognized that moving classes online was a responsible decision—but that the school’s withholding of all tuition fees is “unfair and unlawful.”
“[Purdue is] effectively passing on the losses on to the students and their families,” the lawsuit says.
In response, a Purdue spokesperson said the suit was blatant profiteering—a transparent attempt to make money off an unprecedented crisis.
“It was sadly predictable that some plaintiff’s lawyer would attempt to profit form this unprecedented public health crisis that’s affected us all,” they said. “The suit is baseless and has no chance of ultimate success. In the meantime, it will be one more minor difficulty among all those we’re currently wrestling with.”