The University of Rochester faces a proposed class action in search of tuition and fee refunds for the Spring 2020 semester transitioned to online learning due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The plaintiff claims that although he does not dispute Rochester’s March 11 decision to cancel two days of classes and cease in-person instruction for the remainder of the semester, he “asks merely to be refunded the money he spent for educational services that were not provided.”
According to the suit, the upstate New York school has refused to issue tuition refunds despite failing to provide “less than half” of the promised “classroom or direct faculty instruction” for which students contracted and paid.
“Plaintiff and the putative class contracted and paid for an education, not course credits,” the complaint argues. “They paid for the robust education and full experience of academic life on Rochester’s campus; remote online learning cannot provide the same value as in-person education.”
In exchange for tuition and fees, the University of Rochester promised to provide students with an agreed-upon amount of in-person instruction and access to the school’s resources and facilities, such as libraries, laboratories and classrooms, the lawsuit says. Specifically, Rochester represents that for each credit hour, students will receive 15 hours of “classroom or direct faculty instruction” and at least 30 hours of out-of-class work, including laboratory work, internships and studio work, the suit relays.
According to the case, however, students received during the Spring 2020 semester only seven of the promised 15 hours of classroom/direct instruction per credit hour and “dramatically less” than the promised 30 hours of out-of-class student work. Moreover, students had access to Rochester’s facilities and equipment for only seven of the 15-week semester, the suit says.
With regard to the school’s transition to online learning in March, the lawsuit contends Rochester has “attempt[ed] to replace the irreplaceable—on-campus life at an elite university—with ‘virtual learning’ via online classes,” arguing that the substitute education offered by the defendant for both the Spring and Summer 2020 semesters “cannot provide the academic and collegiate experience Rochester extols.”
The lawsuit argues online learning is far less valuable than in-person instruction, and asserts the difference in value is illustrated by the price disparity between Rochester’s in-person and online programs. Per the complaint, the school charged $1,720 per credit hour for undergraduate courses in arts, sciences and engineering for the Spring 2020 semester while charging only $503 per credit hour—71 percent less—for online undergraduate humanities and science courses.
According to the suit, the University of Rochester has failed to shoulder its burden of the COVID-19 crisis and instead passed on the costs of the pandemic to students and their families by refusing to issue refunds for tuition and fees.
“Rochester is not entitled, by either contract or equitable principles, to pass the entire cost of its COVID-19 related closure to its students and their families,” the complaint reads. “Plaintiff and the putative class are entitled to a partial refund of the tuition, fees, and other related payments for in-person educational services, access to facilities, and/or related opportunities for which they paid that Rochester did not provide.”
For the Fall 2020 semester, Rochester has decided that on-campus life “would be drastically reduced,” with most faculty and staff continuing to work remotely “into the foreseeable future,” the suit adds.
The University of Rochester joins dozens of other colleges and universities facing potential class action litigation over their alleged refusal to issue tuition and fee refunds for the Spring 2020 semester cut short by the COVID-19 crisis.
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.