Students demand tuition refunds after colleges go online

Published: May. 7, 2020 at 4:32 PM EDT
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Colleges scrambled to move their classes online after COVID-19 shut down campuses across the country. But a growing number of students say they're not getting the academic experience they paid for. More than two dozen class-action lawsuits have been filed asking for refunds.

Attorney Roy Willey's South Carolina firm is handling more than a dozen of those suits, which are asking colleges for partial refunds on tuition.

"The universities that I have brought suits against for the most part have endowments in the hundreds of millions and billions of dollars. None of my clients have similar financial portfolios," Willey said.

Attorney Steve Berman is also filing class-action suits. He says online courses do not make up for what students have lost.

"Now you're just locked in your room in front of a screen and it's just not the same learning experience. It's not as motivating for the kids either," Berman said.

His Seattle-based firm is targeting several elite colleges, including Brown University and George Washington University, which charges nearly $30,000 per semester. Mark Shaffer's daughter is a student there.

"The online classes aren't the same as in-person classes," Shaffer said. "You don't have the direct professor-student interface."

He's asking for a $4,000 refund, saying the school is charging tuition as if nothing has changed.

George Washington University says its faculty has worked hard to provide a quality academic experience from a distance.

Brown University says it is aware of the lawsuit, but that the core value of a Brown education has not changed.

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