Columbia University, Board of Trustees Hit with Class Actions Seeking Refunds for Coronavirus-Shortened Semester [UPDATE]
Last Updated on December 8, 2021
Student A. v. The Board of Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
Filed: April 23, 2020 ◆§ 1:20-cv-03208
Columbia University and its board of trustees face a class action alleging the Ivy League institution should issue tuition and fee refunds for the Spring 2020 semester.
December 8, 2021 – Parties Ask Court to Approve $12.5M Settlement
The plaintiffs in the case detailed on this page have asked the judge to preliminarily approve a $12.5 million settlement that will see 100 percent of the unrefunded fees at issue in the suit paid back to students.
The settlement, if approved, will cover all Columbia students who were assessed Spring 2020 fees, with the exception of those who withdrew from the school on or before March 13, 2020 or enrolled in an online-only program.
Students who fit the above criteria will automatically receive a check for their share of the deal, the amount of which will depend on the program they were enrolled in. Checks will be mailed to the last address Columbia has on file for each student. The settlement website, which is not yet active, will allow students to update their addresses or elect to receive their payment through PayPal or Venmo instead of a mailed check.
Notice of the settlement will be sent via email or mail, and a link to the settlement website will be posted on Columbia’s homepage, www.columbia.edu. A notice will also be published in the Columbia Daily Spectator, the school’s student newspaper, or a publication with comparable reach.
The plaintiffs praised the deal as an “excellent result” in a November 23 memo, noting they have obtained “100% of the alleged damages for unrefunded fees” plus an additional $4 million.
The settlement now awaits the judge’s stamp of preliminary approval.
October 12, 2021 – Settlement Announced
An attorney for Columbia’s board of trustees wrote in an October 6 letter that the parties in the case detailed on this page have reached a settlement in principle.
The judge overseeing the lawsuit gave the parties until November 10 to file a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement.
Check back to this page for updates on the deal.
New York’s Columbia University and its board of trustees have been hit with separate proposed class action lawsuits filed by students who say they’re owed refunds for the Spring 2020 semester shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The suits say that while the Ivy League institution did the right thing by closing its campus and transitioning to online academics, Columbia has either refused to refund tuition and fees or has offered “inadequate or arbitrary reimbursement” that falls short of properly repaying proposed class members. According to the lawsuits, Columbia owes refunds in light of the fact that it has not provided the services—such as in-person instruction, room and board, access to campus facilities, extra-curricular activities and networking and mentorship opportunities, among others—for which tuition and fees have already been paid.
One case, filed by two named plaintiffs, alleges that while Columbia still offers some level of academic instruction online, students have been and will be deprived of the benefits of on-campus learning due to the school’s COVID-19 closure. Moreover, the lawsuit says that any degrees issued on the basis of online classes, which Columbia announced on March 20 would be graded as pass/fail, will be “diminished” for the rest of a student’s life.
The other complaint, filed by a pseudonymous student, adds that Columbia may be eligible to receive federal stimulus money under the CARES Act, which directs roughly $14 billion to colleges and universities based on enrollment. The CARES Act requires schools to use at least half of the funds to provide emergency financial aid grants to students for expenses linked to COVID-19 disruptions, according to the suit.
The same lawsuit says Columbia students as early as March 12 rolled out a Change.org petition calling on the school to issue refunds given concerns about the “reduction of educational quality” for online learning and the “negative professional impacts of reduced networking opportunities and cancelled campus events.”
“These realities notwithstanding, Defendant has refused and continues to refuse to offer any refund whatsoever with respect to the tuition that has already been paid,” the suit asserts.
Columbia joins a growing list of colleges, including Drexel, the University of Miami, Liberty University, Arizona’s state universities, Pace, Cornell, and University of Colorado Boulder, who face potential class action litigation claiming they’ve wrongfully kept tuition and fees paid for the Spring 2020 semester cut short by the coronavirus crisis.
Both lawsuits can be found below.
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.
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