May 29, 2020 – Penn State Facing Another Case Seeking Tuition, Fee Refunds
Penn State has been hit with another proposed class action seeking tuition and fee refunds in light of the school’s transition to online learning and campus closure amid the COVID-19 crisis.
From the suit:
“In short, Plaintiff and the members of the Class have paid for tuition for a first-rate education and an on-campus, in person educational experience, with all the appurtenant benefits offered by a first-rate university, and were provided a materially deficient and insufficient alternative, which alternative constitutes a breach of the contracts entered into by Plaintiff and the Class with the University. If Plaintiff and members of the Class wanted to take online classes rather than in-person classes with the University, they could have enrolled with Penn State World Campus Online (‘World Campus’).”
The plaintiff, a full-time undergraduate student, claims Penn State’s failure to remit refunds constitutes a breach of the contract entered into between tuition-payers and the institution.
The Pennsylvania State University is one of the latest institutions to be hit with a proposed class action over its alleged refusal to issue tuition and fee refunds after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to close its doors for the Spring 2020 semester and transition to online learning.
Filed against Penn State’s Board of Trustees, the lawsuit alleges students were deprived of the educational experience for which they paid tuition and fees once the school transitioned to online classes and constructively evicted on-campus residents in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The suit alleges that despite depriving students of in-person instruction, access to campus facilities, activities, mentorship opportunities, and other services, Penn State has refused to offer proper refunds, or has otherwise provided “inadequate and/or arbitrary” reimbursement that fails to compensate proposed class members for their losses.
The plaintiff, a full-time undergraduate student, claims he specifically chose to attend Pennsylvania State University on an in-person basis, stressing that the level and quality of instruction provided by an educator in person is higher than that offered via an online format. Moreover, the case points out that even before the coronavirus crisis began, the defendant charged “significantly lower tuition” for its online “World Campus” program despite advertising that the degrees earned through such are equivalent to those earned by students at the school’s physical locations.
According to the suit, the difference in price indicates that Penn State acknowledges the value of an online degree is worth “between 44% and 80% less than the same degree earned on a physical campus.”
In that light, the plaintiff claims the online instruction he’s received since leaving campus “is not commensurate” with the same in-person classes. The student argues that since he and others were only present at the school for roughly 47 percent of the semester, they are owed refunds for part of their tuition and certain fees, including a $265 “Student Fee” intended to support student services and resources that are no longer available.
The lawsuit points out that while Penn State has refused to issue tuition refunds for the Spring 2020 semester, the school has announced that tuition for summer classes—which will be held online—will be reduced. The case claims “the only difference” between the defendant’s decision with respect to tuition costs for the Spring and Summer sessions is that the school has already collected tuition for the Spring term.
According to the suit, the university knows students who enrolled in the Spring semester “have no recourse” while those who enroll in the Summer term “will not agree to pay full price tuition.”
The lawsuit notes that notwithstanding Pennsylvania State’s refusal to refund tuition costs, the university is expected to receive an estimated $55 million from the federal government under the CARES Act, at least half of which must be used to provide emergency financial aid to students for the disruption of campus operations.