Class-action lawsuits seek tuition and fee reimbursements
The number of colleges facing class-action lawsuits over their refusal to refund any tuition dollars after schools switched to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has grown in recent weeks, and two law firms are leading the charge.
The lawsuits seek damages related to depriving students of in-person instruction and campus amenities without issuing any form of tuition refunds. Some schools have even declined to issue room and board reimbursements.
The South Carolina-based Anastopoulo law firm kicked off the suits in mid-April, filing on behalf of students at Drexel University and the University of Miami. Since then, the firm has filed an additional 19 lawsuits against colleges and universities across the entire country.
Hagens Berman law firm, which has offices nationwide, has also filed eight similar lawsuits against colleges and universities.
The two firms are all suing different schools, however both have filed complaints against Boston University. Between the two firms, 28 different institutions are facing lawsuits.
Hagens Berman, in addition to the BU suit, has filed lawsuits against Washington University, St. Louis, Emory University, Duke University, the University of Southern California, George Washington University, Brown University, and Vanderbilt University.
Steve Berman, a partner and namesake for the firm, told The College Fix in an email that while the reasons to shut down campus instruction were justified, “the fact remains that such closures and cancellations present significant loss to students and others paying…tuition.”
The lawsuits seek “to make the students and other tuition payers whole. Students did not agree to attend online school, nor did they agree to pay the high cost of tuition for online classes,” he said.
Roy Willey of the Anastopoulo firm, in a comment provided to The Fix, said the filing of these cases is “about basic fairness.”
“Colleges and universities are not unlike any other business in America and they too have to tighten their belts during this unprecedented time,” he said. “They are not any more entitled to keep money for services they are not delivering than the mom and pop bakery on Main Street.”
“Students and their families have pre-paid tuition and fees for services, access to facilities and experiential education and the universities and colleges are not delivering those services, access or experiences,” he added. “Now universities are not delivering those services that students and their families have paid for and it’s not fair for the universities with multi-million dollar endowments to keep all of the money that students and their families have paid. It is not fair to pass the full burden onto students and their families.”
The South Carolina based firm provided The College Fix with copies of the complaints the firm has filed against American University in Washington D.C., UC Berkeley, Boston University, Cornell, Drexel University, Indiana University, University of Miami, Penn State University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The language in each suit is generally the same. The plaintiffs all chose to attend college in-person, despite the general availability of online instruction prior to the coronavirus outbreak, while also admitting that the institutions made the right decision to close the campus.
Despite the concession that the move to remote learning was the right decision, the suits argue that administrators have not provided adequate reimbursements.
“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,” the Anastopoulo suits’ state. “Moreover, the true college experience encompasses much more than just the credit hours and degrees.”
In the case of UC Berkeley, the school moved to a pass/fail only grading format, without giving students the option of receiving a letter grade, which may “constitute a potential violation of the campus’s contractual obligations to students,” the lawsuit contents.
At American University, students taking summer courses via online instruction will receive a 10 percent discount on tuition, the lawsuit against the D.C.-based university states, but the students who were forced online in the spring semester received no such discount.
The lawsuit alleges that the institution is only offering the summer discount because it “has already collected tuition for the Spring Semester and the Spring Semester students have no recourse, whereas Defendant has not yet collected tuition for the Summer term and Defendant knows many students will not agree to pay full price tuition for online classes during that upcoming term.”
The firm is also suing University of Colorado-Boulder, Columbia University, Pace University, Manhattan College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, three UNC campuses — Wilmington, Asheville, and Charlotte — as well as East Carolina University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Temple, and Pennsylvania College of Technology.
The lawsuits filed by Hagens Berman make the same general allegations that are made by Anastopoulo, mainly that the institutions breached the contract made with students regarding an in-person campus experience without appropriate compensation.
Hagens Berman law firm has a webpage dedicated to encouraging students to sue their colleges, stating that the firm is “investigating universities and colleges across the nation and is seeking to represent students, parents and guardians against any higher education institution that has failed to repay losses due to COVID-19.”
“Despite orders from colleges and universities sending home students and closing campuses, these institutions of higher learning continue to charge for tuition and room and board. Collectively, these institutions are continuing to receive millions from students despite their inability to continue school as normal, or occupy campus buildings and dorms,” the firm’s website states.