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UNCW student sues university for COVID-19 tuition refunds

The UNCW campus is empty over spring break but will likely stay that way once break is over.
The UNCW campus is empty over spring break but will likely stay that way once break is over.(wect)
Updated: May. 7, 2020 at 11:44 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A student has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the UNC System and its Board of Governors to get back the tuition, fees and housing costs she feels should be refunded after the university closed campus and transitioned to online instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While the plaintiff, an undergraduate student studying criminology and sociology, acknowledged in her 24-page complaint that closing campus was the “right thing… to do,” she argued the decision deprived students of benefits they had already paid for.

The university, which through a spokesperson declined to comment due to the pending litigation, closed its campus on March 17, about midway through students’ extended spring break. Following that announcement, the university confirmed a transition to online instruction the remainder of the semester once classes resumed on March 23.

Though UNCW did say it would refund housing and meal plans based on a start date of March 23, the student argued that was “insufficient,” as she and other students expected to return to campus on March 13, but were encouraged and later required not to return after that date.

The university has also “refused” to offer any prorated discount or refund for spring tuition, according to the complaint.

“Common sense would dictate that the level and quality of instruction an educator can provide through an online format is lower than the level and quality of instruction that can be provided in person,” the student wrote in the complaint. “Moreover, the true college experience encompasses much more than just the credit hours and degrees.”

To bolster her point, the student wrote that only two of her classes offer video instruction – one live and one pre-recorded – while professors in her other classes only upload assignments with no video instruction. She added the cost of tuition for an online degree is roughly 18% cheaper than the cost of tuition for the same degree on campus.

The university also announced that students expecting to take summer classes in person, who will now have to take them online, will be charged the distance education rate instead of the normal rate.

“The only difference between Defendants’ decision to discount online classes for the Summer and not discount online classes for the Spring is that Defendants have already collected tuition for the Spring Semester and the Spring Semester students have no recourse, whereas Defendants have not yet collected tuition for the Summer term and Defendants know many students will not agree to pay full price tuition for online classes during that upcoming term,” the student wrote.

Similar lawsuits have been filed against other UNC System institutions and other universities across the country.

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