Dozens of universities and colleges now face class action lawsuits brought on behalf of students, demanding partial tuition and fee refunds, claiming that virual learning and remote classes during the COVID-19 pandemic are not to par with the caliber of education they paid to have in an actual classroom.
Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 1.2 million people in the United States and caused nearly 74,000 deaths, at least 48 states have ordered or recommended schools not to reopen this academic year, leaving educators scrambling to develop an online learning environment for an unknown length of time.
Approximately 124,000 U.S. public and private schools, which are tasked with educating at least 55.1 million students, have shifted to remote learning environments. As a result, some students now claim they are not receiving the education they paid for at private universities.
More than 25 universities that have closed on-campus operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the University of Pennsylvania and University of North Carolina Wilmington, face class-action lawsuits filed against them by students within the last month. The students demand to receive partial tuition, fees and housing cost refunds, claiming students are receiving lower quality education services and are deprived of the on-campus benefits for which they already paid.
While many plaintiffs recognize the transitioning to online classes was the appropriate thing to do to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease, students are arguing they have paid a premium to attend universities for the benefit of an on-campus learning environment, which has now become an online education environment.
One lawsuit filed against The University of North Carolina by Gina McAllister, a student at the university, claims the level and quality of instruction an educator can provide through an online format is lower than the level and quality that can be provided in person.
McAllister further claimed the university is charging student’s full price for an online degree, detailing in the complaint the cost of tuition for an online degree is roughly 18% cheaper than the cost of tuition for the same degree on campus.
Additionally, several lawsuits filed by students are claiming their tuition fees include paid to access gyms, libraries, labs and other resources that are all now inaccessible for the remainder of the school year, and potentially into the upcoming semesters.
Sources have claimed the mounting complaints against the universities could become costly if students win the cases, especially at some of the costliest Ivy League schools such as Brown, Columbia and Cornell as well as public universities like the University of California and California State University systems, New York University, Michigan State, Penn State and Purdue, which have all been named as defendants in class action lawsuits filed by students.
While some states have begun lifting their statewide shutdowns, many have reiterated that schools will remain shut down for the rest of the academic year, while future semesters being held in the classroom remain unknown.