Class-action lawsuit seeks tuition reimbursement against Drexel University amid COVID-19

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- With schools going online as a result of the pandemic, many students want refunds for housing, meal plans and tuition.

Roy Willey, a class action attorney, started a website called CollegeRefund2020 to investigate colleges who may not be offering reimbursements he said students may be entitled to.

"Students bargained for and contracted for an on-campus educational in-person experience - they aren't getting it," said Willey, with the Anastopoulo Law Firm.

Willey filed a class action against Drexel University on behalf of one student which seeks "a refund of certain tuition fees and other costs paid to defendant for the 2020 Spring Semester."

He said Drexel has an online program that's offered at a lower fee.



"Acknowledging in essence that it has a lower value and so, the students are entitled to a refund for the difference in value between what they contracted for and what they're actually getting," Willey said.

There are many school costs in addition to tuition, from dorm expenses to athletic and student activity fees.

Both Temple University and Rutgers University have already committed to certain student refunding, including money paid for unused housing, meal plans and parking charges.

Drexel University says, "For the spring term, which began on April 6, the university is not charging room and board for students who have moved out of university housing."

Its website also indicates, "There will be no charges levied for on-campus housing or meal plans for students working from home or in off-campus residences" for the spring term.
Mark Kantrowitz is the publisher of SavingForCollege.com and said some schools have committed to refunds.

"Two-thirds of the colleges are giving cash refunds and an additional fifth are giving a voucher or credit towards charges in the future academic term," he said. "Obviously, if the students graduating they get a cash refund and the remaining 5% of colleges are either not giving refunds or they haven't figured it out yet."



Kantrowitz said this can change,

"Because the Cares Act included $14 billion in a higher education Emergency Relief Fund, half must be in the form of emergency grants to students specifically because of the disruption of campus operations," he said. "So, the federal government has given colleges money that could be used to give refunds of room and board and other charges."

In the meantime, Kantrowitz says we should also keep in mind, "It's not just the students and their families who are hurting financially, it's the colleges as well."

Temple and other schools say they are not only losing money but spending more to enhance infrastructure and provide continuity of education and services.

It said it has implemented an administrative hiring freeze, is reducing ongoing expenses and temporarily cutting pay for its leadership.

The University of Pennsylvania has taken similar measures.

When it comes to higher education if you have a federal student loan you can stop making payments until September 30.

That's because the Cares Act automatically puts federal student loan borrowers on an administrative forbearance.

If you made a payment on or after March 13, you can request a refund from your student loan service.

Full statements:



DREXEL UNIVERSITY:

Drexel University's top priority is preserving and maintaining the health and safety of all members of its community during this unprecedented time.

In accordance with statewide preventative measures, campus facilities are closed. Courses for Drexel's spring quarter are being taught remotely through the end of the term using web, video and teleconferencing tools already widely adopted by faculty.

The University remains committed to providing students with a challenging and engaging academic - and social - experience, utilizing an array of creative digital tools to keep connected to their professors and to each other.

The University is aware of the court filing and has no further comment on the pending litigation.

RUTGERS UNIVERSITY:

Refunds for housing, dining and parking charges to students are the broad refunds we have committed to at this time. The adjustments will be calculated on a prorated basis beginning on March 23, the first day following Spring Break, and ending on May 16, the required move-out date at the University. Specific course fees, where appropriate, will be refunded on a course-by-course basis, as well, in due course.

Tuition, as well as fees for other programs that continue to operate and provide services remotely or for facilities and functions that must be maintained even while the University has been directed to cease in-person instruction, will not be refunded.

We moved to remote instruction in mid-March across the university. Summer session courses are being offered remotely.

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

The University of Pennsylvania's full statement can be found here.

TEMPLE UNIVERSITY:

As many of you know, Temple is experiencing significant impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been personal, professional and logistical challenges as Temple made the rapid shift to alternative teaching and learning methods. These challenges have also put a major strain on university finances in the form of lost revenue from conferences and events, and refunds to students for unused housing, meal plans and parking charges.

In addition to these losses, we have experienced increased costs, especially from having to enhance the infrastructure that allows us to provide continuity of education and vital services for our students. While the university may receive some relief from the federal CARES Act, a large share of these funds will (and are required to) be passed through to students. The remainder will come nowhere near to making up for the losses we have suffered so far, much less make up for what we might experience in the future.

Every division at the university has been asked to make reductions in current spending, and to build a plan for reducing the budget by 5 percent for the coming fiscal year.

If we knew the impact of the pandemic would be limited to just this academic year, these efforts might be enough. However, as the crisis continues to damage the national economy-and the lives of our students and their families-we are faced with enormous uncertainty about the summer and the coming academic year. It is clear the university must take meaningful steps to ensure its long-term ability to serve our students.

Our first action was implementing an administrative hiring freeze. Second was reducing ongoing expenses. The next is to impose temporary pay cuts for Temple's leadership. The salaries of officers, deans and advisors to the President will be reduced by 10% beginning in May. Compensation of non-bargaining unit employees earning more than $100,000 will be reduced by 5%.

I believe these are the logical next steps in ensuring Temple's fiscal future. I also believe they are not the only steps we may need to take. As the economic fallout and impact on the university's budget from the pandemic comes more clearly into focus, I will be recommending additional actions. Some of these may be painful, but our first obligation must be to our students and to preserving the university's ability to provide access to the highest quality education.

Thank you for your cooperation and your commitment to ensuring the long-term fiscal health of Temple University.

Sincerely,
Ken Kaiser
Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer
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