More than 25 universities in the United States are facing lawsuits from students who say that with the move to online-distance learning because of state shut-downs during the pandemic, they are not getting the caliber of education or the college experience they were promised and are demanding partial refunds on tuition and campus fees.
While online learning has become increasingly popular in the past decade and it has greatly increased access to higher education for many, a large percentage of students who have recently graduated from high school are still seeking the college experience of living on or near campus and having classes, social gatherings, sporting events, extracurricular activities, etc. that happen on campus, as the hub of their life while enrolled in school. As well and for many, just as importantly, many students are dissatisfied with the online classes that their schools scrambled to create as campuses across the nation were forced to close last month.
The different lawsuits say similar things along the lines that, students should pay lower rates for the portion of the term that was offered online, and that the quality of instruction and discourse is far below the real-life classroom experience. Some of the suits are also seeking refunds on fees students paid to be a part of the campus community.
Many of the colleges that are being sued are rejecting the notion that refunds are in order. Many officials have reiterated similar statements, that students are still learning from the same professors that they were being taught by while they were in classrooms on campus, and they are still earning credits toward their degrees. The schools are also adamant about the fact that they did not have any say in the state-mandated closures and given the circumstances and material reality of the situation, they are still offering students a quality education.
Lawsuits, many of which are class-action lawsuits, are demanding tuition refunds and have been filed against prestigious private universities including Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Drexel, and Vanderbilt, and against big-name public schools including Michigan State, UC Berkeley, Purdue, and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Some lawsuits point to a school having large financial reserves, some of whose endowments surpass $1 billion, and how unfair it is to withhold refunds in light of these large reserves.