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Class Action Lawsuits Seek Refunds

As COVID-19 closed the physical doors to higher education in America forcing students off campus and onto the internet for remote learning, students and their parents sought tuition and fee refunds which has resulted in class action lawsuits against public and private universities and colleges across America.

Is Distance Learning The Equivalent Of A Campus Experience?

The complaints are based on two legal claims, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. In essence the argument is that the students and/or their parents bargained and paid for an on campus education and online classes are not the equivalent and thus by retaining the tuition, the schools have been unjustly enriched by failing to provide the contracted for services and retaining the full tuition and fees.

It is asserted that tuition should be refunded because distance learning is inferior to on campus education. It is further asserted that the tuition fees encompass the total on campus experience such as the use of libraries, athletic facilities and development of friendships and engagement in cultural activities. It is also alleged by some students that the rigors of in classroom experience are lacking in remote learning. Still further, for some it is impossible to engage in the actual experiential learning that is a daily part of on campus life, such as lab work. In addition, it is claimed that fees should be refunded since the fees are tied directly to presence on campus such as fees for the use of on campus health services, gyms and labs.

Colleges and universities are taking the position that students are not entitled to refunds because they are receiving an equivalent education and earning equivalent credits towards their degrees.

The fact is that the overall educational experience contracted for by the students and/or their parents is vastly different than what is being provided and it seems disingenuous at best to suggest otherwise.

On the other hand, the real issue seems to be who should bear the burden for an unexpected event which was the fault of neither the school nor the student. In other words, given the implementation of extraordinary closures mandated by government action rendering the delivery of the contracted for services by the universities and colleges impossible are they legally liable to make the refunds?

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