Showing posts with label tuition refunds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tuition refunds. Show all posts

Monday, March 15, 2021

All Sales Final! No Refunds! Students lose lawsuit for tuition reimbursement against four Rhode Island universities that closed their campuses during COVID pandemic

Almost exactly one year ago, American higher education shut down in response to the COVID pandemic.  All across the United States, universities closed their campuses and switched from face-to-face instruction to online teaching.

Over the past several months, students brought dozens of lawsuits against their colleges, seeking partial tuition refunds for the 2020 spring semester. They argued that the quality of teaching suffered when teaching shifted to computerized learning.

Some student plaintiffs found sympathetic courts, but a federal judge in Rhode Island dismissed students' lawsuits against four Rhode Island schools: Brown Univesity, Johnson & Wales University, Roger Williams University, and the University of Rhode Island.

 Judge John McConnell ruled that the four universities had no contractual obligation to deliver in-person instruction during the spring of 2020.  In Judge McConnell's view, the universities' recruitment materials, which touted lovely campuses and stimulating classroom environments, were mere "puffery" and did not amount to a contractual obligation to teach classes face-to-face.

I think Judge McConnell ruled correctly. Confronted with the coronavirus pandemic, American colleges and universities had no choice but to switch instruction from the classroom settings to an online format.

I sympathize with the students who brought these lawsuits, particularly the one brought against Brown University, an elite Ivy League school. Brown's tuition and fees total $58,000 per year. Students did not shell out that kind of money to take classes by sitting in front of a commuter in their parents' basements. 

Nevertheless, America's college leaders were justified in closing their campuses last spring. It was the only responsible thing to do. Surely they realize, however, that they cannot teach students via computers over the long term, even if the coronavirus pandemic stretches out for many months or years to come.

The total cost of attending America's most prestigious colleges now amounts to about $70,000 a year or even more. Most students will have to take out student loans to cover the bill.

If Brown's academic leaders think their students will take out student loans indefinitely for computerized instruction, they are in for a rude awakening.  No one will go into six-figure debt to get an online diploma, even if the credential is from Brown University.

Thus if the COVID pandemic isn't quickly brought under control, it will be the end of expensive private-college education.  After all, a young person smart enough to be admitted to Brown is smart enough not to pay $58,000 a year for an online college degree.




References

Burt v. Board of Trustees of the University of Rhode Island, __ F.3d ___, C.A. No. 20-465-JJM-LDA (D.R.I. March 4, 2021).



Monday, May 4, 2020

Angry students sue more than 50 colleges after instruction goes on line in response to the coronavirus

A bunch of black swans showed up this spring, and they landed on top of every college administration building in America.

Last March, virtually every postsecondary institution shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Students who lived in campus dorms were told to scram.  Face-to-face instruction screeched to a halt, and the colleges began teaching their students online. The departing students lost access to professors, libraries, and college recreational facilities.

Most universities refunded dorm fees and student meal plans on a  proportional basis. But the universities didn't refund tuition, arguing that students are still getting fair value because their classes are continuing online.

The students aren't buying it. So far, students have sued more than 50 colleges demanding to get their tuition money back. Online instruction is inferior to interacting with professors in a real classroom, they maintain. And of course, they are right.

The colleges respond, with some justification, that they did not anticipate the coronavirus pandemic and are doing the best they can under the circumstances.   "Faculty and staff are literally working around the clock," Peter McDonough, a lawyer for a college trade group, argued defensively.

I sympathize with the colleges, but I can say with authority that professors don't work around the clock on anything.  If they claim to be working 24/7, they mean they're working 24 hours in a seven-day week.

And if the universities claim their distance-learning format is equal to face-to-face teaching, they are not telling the truth.  A few professors are tech-savvy and can quickly shift to online education, but a lot of them can't.

In any event, America's elite private schools have justified their nosebleed tuition by professing to offer small class sizes and ample opportunities to personally interact with their professors.  They can't credibly change their story now and claim that their online instruction justifies tuition at $50,000 a year.

Regardless of whether colleges win these lawsuits, they will be severely stressed financially in the coming months. One study predicts that four-year colleges could lose up to 20 percent of their fall enrollment. Any small private school that loses 20 percent of its students this fall will be closed by May.

If you are a professor who works at a small private college, it is time to formulate a Plan B. What will you do if your school shuts down and you are thrown out of work?

And if you are a student who plans to enroll at a small, private school this fall, you too need a Plan B. You need to find out what your institution's financial situation is. You do not want to take out student loans to pay tuition to attend a college that may close before you graduate.

The black swan: Coming soon to a campus near you