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US: Growing number of students suing colleges that moved classes online amid pandemic

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An Indiana University student is suing the school, asking for a reimbursement of some tuition and fees paid for the spring semester that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Like most colleges and universities around the country, IU moved to online instruction to address concerns about the potential for the virus to spread quickly through classrooms and campuses.  

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Now, many of those schools are being sued by students who say they paid for services, facilities and opportunities they were not able to take advantage of

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Purdue University is facing similar legal action. 

A class action complaint filed last month claims Purdue “unjustly enriched” itself during the coronavirus epidemic and owes students money back for goods not delivered, not to mention a diminished online experience.

In Michigan, lawsuits have been filed against the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. 


Students at the University of Southern California, George Washington University, Boston University, Brown University and Vanderbilt University have done the same. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that students filed lawsuits in early April against Drexel University and the University of Miami over spring semester tuition, room and board and fees. Students at the University of Arizona did the same, according to Inside High Ed.

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In the case of Indiana University, the school extended its spring break by one week and began delivering instruction online March 30. That extended through the end of the spring semester, which wrapped up this week.

Justin Spiegel, an undergraduate student studying informatics at IU’s Bloomington campus, is asking for some of his tuition money back, as well as a reimbursement for certain fees.  

And he’s not just asking for himself. The case has been filed as a class action suit, opening up the door for any other student enrolled in the spring 2020 semester to join. Spring enrollment at the Bloomington campus was 41,293.

Spiegel, an Illinois resident, filed the lawsuit in Monroe County Circuit Court Wednesday. The suit seeks to have two classes certified: those who paid tuition and then were denied in-person instruction and those who paid fees for on-campus services like transportation and health care that are no longer available to them.

The university is reimbursing students a prorated share of their housing fees for those that were forced to leave their dorms for the remainder of the semester.

Roy Willey, a class action attorney with the Anastopoulo Law Firm that is working with Spiegel, said the case is about "basic fairness."

"Students and their families have pre-paid tuition and fees for services, access to facilities and experiential education and the universities and colleges are not delivering those services, access or experiences," Willey said. "Now universities are not delivering those services that students and their families have paid for and it's not fair for the universities with multi-million dollar endowments to keep all of the money that students and their families have paid. 

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"It is not fair to pass the full burden onto students and their families."

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A university spokesperson issued a statement Friday and said the lawsuit is taking advantage of the crisis.

“In the midst of a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our entire way of life, Indiana University has acted responsibly to keep our students safe and progressing in their education,” said Chuck Carney, spokesperson for the university. “We are deeply disappointed that this lawsuit fails to recognize the extraordinary efforts of our faculty, staff, and students under these conditions while it seeks to take advantage in this time of state and national emergency.” 

a close up of a stone building: IU logo in limestone on building on Indiana University-Bloomington campus. © Courtesy of Indiana University. IU logo in limestone on building on Indiana University-Bloomington campus.

The lawsuit says that students were “deprived of the benefit of the in-person educational experience for which they had bargained; and the benefit of the facilities and services for which fees had been paid.”

The lawsuit does not argue that the decision to close campus and move to remote instruction was wrong — just that online instruction is not worth what students paid when they enrolled for in-person, on-campus classes. 

"The true college experience encompasses much more than just the credit hours and degrees," the complaint states. 

Students, the suit argues, are also paying for face-to-face interaction with professors, mentors, and peers; for access to facilities like computer labs; and for the opportunity to participate in on-campus and extracurricular activities. 

The bachelor of science degree that Spiegel is seeking costs $10,948 per year for Indiana residents and $36,512 per year for non-residents, according to the lawsuit.

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Over the course of four years, that adds up to a total cost of $43,792 for residents and $146,048 for non-residents. 

But IU also offers an online degree program, which charges substantially lower prices. That same degree can be earned online for the cost of $30,000 for residents and $42,000 for non-residents.

Another IU student started a petition on Change.org, calling for the university to reimburse students for the loss of in-person instruction this spring. It has more than 21,000 signatures of support.

Lafayette Journal & Courier reporter Dave Bangert, USA TODAY reporter Chris Quintana and Detroit Free Press reporter David Jesse contributed to this report. 

Follow Arika Herron on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Growing number of students suing colleges that moved classes online amid pandemic

Due to COVID-19, thousands of low-income students are deferring and dropping college plan .
Middle-class college-goers may consider a “gap year,” where they defer college for a year, usually finding something educationally enriching to do for a year. But that’s not what’s happening with low-income students. "What we worry about is a lot of students taking delivery jobs, grocery store jobs because their parents depend on them for income," said Nicole Hurd, founder of the College Advising Corps, which sends college counselors to high schools that lack them. "That's not a gap year. That's just not going to college.

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