The ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic has caused the closure of most colleges and universities across the country, certainly for the spring 2020 semester and possibly beyond. Strict state stay-at-home orders have caused schools to move students out of dorms and canceled all in-person teaching. Students have also lost access to gyms, clubs, libraries, and other university facilities which they paid for with their tuition fees. As a substitute, many universities have sought to provide online learning — but at the same full tuition rate that students originally contracted for. This alternative education has left many students unhappy with an inferior experience.
Bennett v. Columbia University, 1:20-cv-03227 (S.D.N.Y.), is one of several putative class actions alleging that students contracted for in-person instruction, not online courses. The students say online instruction falls short because there is no face-to-face interaction with professors, access to university benefits such as libraries, student governance, social development, hands on learning, and in-person experimentation. While online classes may provide some academic benefit, the students allege that “[t]he tuition and fees for in-person instruction at [Columbia] are higher than tuition fees for online institutions because such costs cover not just the academic instruction, but encompass an entirely different experience.” Moreover, the students allege that even though the pass-fail grading has become ubiquitous during the pandemic, it will diminish the “value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes…for the rest of Plaintiffs’ life.”
The students demand pro-rata reimbursement of their tuition, arguing that Columbia breached its contract to provide an in-person, graded, educational experience and was unjustly enriched by retaining students’ tuition and fees while providing only online learning.
Attorneys at Finkelstein, Blankinship, Frei-Pearson & Garber, LLP have successfully recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of consumers. If you or someone you know has been impacted by university or college transition to online-only learning while retaining full student tuition, please contact us to discuss your legal options.