What Legal Consequences Will Universities Face if They Don’t Reopen in the Fall?

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The nation’s colleges and universities were already struggling financially even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, with a sudden shift to online schooling and students no longer on campus, a difficult situation has become dire.

According to Christina Paxson, President of Brown University, “A lot of [colleges] were teetering on the brink financially, and this is the kind of thing that if a university or small college has to go an entire semester without tuition, room and board, I don’t see how they make it.”

Many universities have spent millions of dollars in a very short amount of time to create a feasible sudden transition from classroom to online learning. Meanwhile, the college experience has taken a big hit for students who had initially paid for something they are no longer receiving.

What happens if schools don’t reopen?

If schools don’t reopen in the fall, the financial situation could result in many universities having to shut down operations altogether. And even if they do reopen, they can still expect to lose money from international tuition, as students are going to be much less likely to cross international boundaries for their education until there is a vaccine for the virus.

In addition, some students have already sued their universities to be fairly reimbursed for tuition, room and board and other fees that were forfeited when students were forced to leave campus in March. Those lawsuits will only become more common if schools do not reopen in the fall.

One ABC News report described the “growing frustration” students have with online classes, and the fact that many are still paying the same rates for tuition and other expenses. Many students are finding the quality of education they get from online courses varies widely from instructor to instructor. 

One lawsuit filed against the University of California-Berkeley, for example, claims some professors are simply uploading assignments to online portals without providing any video or other form of instruction. 

Allen Law LLC has also found this to be true among some of our clients, whose professors are just “phoning it in.”  The learning environment suffers, but students are still asked to pay hefty tuition for this experience.

A class-action lawsuit filed against Drexel University in Philadelphia claims that students have little interaction with their professors and instructors, and that online lectures are only through recorded video rather than live media that offer discussion and time for questions.

There are at least 26 colleges facing class-action lawsuits seeking tuition refunds, some against Ivy League colleges as well as major public universities. 

Given how fast universities had to make the transition to online learning, it is likely that many frustrated students are simply “going with the flow” and seeing it through the end of this spring 2020 semester. Most are willing to be understanding that this was not an ideal circumstance for anyone. But if the closures continue through the fall, the quality of educational experience does not improve, and universities do not adjust their tuition and fees accordingly, the relatively modest number of lawsuits that currently exists may suddenly balloon.

If you have been unable to secure fair reimbursement for college fees that are no longer applicable due to forced online learning, talk to our team about the legal options you have.