WECT Investigates update: Parent gets partial refund after college suspends courses due to COVID-19

College student receives partial refund for canceled classes

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Parent Susan Huggins said it was insulting. Miller-Motte College indefinitely suspended its massage therapy program this year due to COVID-19, when her daughter was just six weeks shy of graduation. The $12,000 tuition Huggins had borrowed for the 10-month course was already paid, and the school wasn’t offering refunds.

“They grandfathered in a couple of people who were maybe... two credit hours away, they did let those people graduate. But for those of us that were within that six week window, they said there’s nothing they could do, it was due to COVID and it wasn’t their fault,” Huggins said.

Federal guidelines require that students not suspend their studies for more than 180 days if they want credit for the work completed up to that point. 180 days into the pandemic, Miller-Motte officials said they didn’t feel it was safe to resume hands-on training, despite the fact that other colleges had resumed classes for massage therapy and cosmetology students.

Miller-Motte suggested students could transfer their credit hours to other colleges offering similar training programs, but students told us neighboring schools would not accept their credit hours because of differences in training and curriculum. So students in Miller-Motte’s massage therapy and cosmetology programs were forced to withdraw and forfeit the credit hours they’d earned up to that point.

Miller-Motte did say students could resume their training at the college at some point in the future, but when the program might open again remains unclear. Under the circumstances, Huggins said it seemed beyond comprehension Miller-Motte would not offer refunds.

“I paid for something I’m never going to get. Don’t tell me she can re-enroll at a later point in a year, it’s not going to do any good, she’s going to be too far down the road to go back,” Huggins recalled of her conversation with an administrator at Miller-Motte’s corporate office. “So that’s when he offered a $6,200 refund to me.”

Specifically, Huggins said that Miller-Motte requested that the Department of Education forgive $6,200 of the $12,000 they had loaned her, which they recently agreed to do. To the best of her understanding, while she doesn’t have to repay that portion of the loan to the government, Miller-Motte still gets to keep the money that was borrowed on her daughter’s behalf.

Miller-Motte also cut Huggins a check for almost $2,000 to make up for the end-of-course classes and training her daughter never got to take. While she said it’s a lot better than being on the hook for the full $12,000, Huggins feels the right thing to do would be to refund her money in full.

When reached for comment, Miller-Motte sent WECT the following response:

Miller-Motte College processed refunds for any student who was eligible for a refund.  According to the CARES ACT, and as explained in our initial media statement “Direct loans and Pell grants that students were awarded in the payment period in which they were withdrawn were cancelled.”

In addition to this, Miller-Motte College followed guidance from the US Department of Education to calculate the institutional refund and Return of Title IV Funds. Instead of returning unearned Title IV funds to the government, credit balances were directed to the student. In addition, any stipends that were paid out to the student during the payment periods under the CARES ACT were kept by the student.

Both of these parts of the CARES ACT were available to all students that met the requirements as outlined. Any payments to students would have been from credit balances that were owed to the student and not direct payments to the student for not being able to complete the program.

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