May 8, 2019 – USC, Board of Trustees Hit with Another COVID-19 Refund Suit
The University of Southern California and its Board of Trustees have been hit with a proposed class action over their alleged failure to issue tuition and/or fee refunds for the Spring 2020 semester, which was cut short due to the coronavirus crisis.
The pseudonymous plaintiff alleges that what students have received from USC while the school remains shuttered amid the pandemic is far from what they bargained for upon enrollment:
“So while students enrolled and paid Defendants for a comprehensive academic experience, Defendants instead offer Plaintiff and the Class Members something far less: a limited online experience presented by Google or Zoom, void of face-to-face faculty and peer interaction, separated from program resources and barred from facilities vital to study.”
As plaintiff tells it, in place of meaningful interaction with professors are “rote emails” devoid of any personal inflection, communications offering conflicting or incorrect information, and “sterilized” lectures and/or PowerPoint presentations. Other professors, the suit says, have outright cut key assignments that the plaintiff says would have provided her and other students with critical learning opportunities and access to USC’s alumni network. Further, in place of peer interaction are online group sessions – poor, fragmented substitutes for which many students have shown no interest in, the case says.
Though USC, which has received $19 million in CARES Act funding, has agreed to prorate housing and dining costs, the school announced tuition will remain the same for the Spring 2020 semester, the lawsuit says.
The University of Southern California has been hit with a proposed class action over its apparent decision to hold students liable for tuition and fees paid before the Spring 2020 semester was shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The 27-page case says that USC has chosen to continue to assess and collect full tuition and fees despite being unable to provide the services or facilities for which students paid and are being billed. Though USC is not to blame for closing campus and transitioning to online learning amid the pandemic, the school has used the COVID-19 shutdown as an excuse to shirk its obligations to students while continuing to demand that they hold up their end of the bargain in paying tuition and fees, the lawsuit argues.
“This is contrary to ordinary tenets of contract law,” the complaint alleges. “And this indefensible breach is saddling wholly innocent students with mounting debt as a result of having to pay tuition and fees for services they are not receiving and facilities that are not being provided."
Highlighted in the lawsuit is how USC students within certain concentrations, including architecture, drama, dance, cinematic arts, journalism, engineering and business, have been deprived of the specialized facilities and in-person instruction they believed they’d receive at the institution. Further, the complaint chides USC for claiming in its April 28 announcement that the online instruction offered during the pandemic is as strong as in-person learning and essentially of the same value despite going to great lengths to tout the benefits of hands-on academic instruction at the time of affected students’ enrollment.
As the suit tells it, a wide gulf exists between what was promised by USC and paid for by students—with 2020 USC tuition running upward of $57,000 plus nearly $2,000 in fees, according to the case—and the truth of the situation amid the pandemic. From the lawsuit:
“The foregoing are mere illustrative examples of the discrepancy between, on the one hand, what USC promised as to the nature, quality, and benefits of its campus facilities and mode of instruction across the board and, on the other hand, what USC actually is making available to students—distance learning through classes by video with no access to campus facilities.
This is a discrepancy that is being visited on students across USC, regardless of school major or discipline. The fact is that, regardless of school, major, or discipline, USC is not offering any in-classroom instruction or any campus facilities, and students across the board are all being charged the same tuition and fees as if such instruction and facilities were offered.”
The lawsuit looks to cover students enrolled at the University of California who pay or are obligated to pay any tuition or fees, as well as any students enrolled at the school in any future summer session or semester during which USC does not provide access to campus facilities or on-campus instruction yet continues to charge full tuition and fees with no proration.
The suit against USC comes amid a wave of litigation against colleges and universities seeking tuition and/or fee refunds for the pandemic-shortened Spring 2020 semester.
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.