COVID-19

Don’t expect a tuition refund if your university moves classes online

Erika Beras Aug 19, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moved classes online after more than 100 students tested positive for COVID-19. Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images
COVID-19

Don’t expect a tuition refund if your university moves classes online

Erika Beras Aug 19, 2020
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moved classes online after more than 100 students tested positive for COVID-19. Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

It hasn’t been a very good week on some campuses that had opened for in-person classes.

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Monday moved all classes online after more than a hundred students tested positive for COVID-19. Notre Dame Tuesday moved instruction online. Michigan State scrapped in-person classes before they’d even started. This isn’t what a lot of students signed up for — and they may want their money back. But that might not be so easy.

Sandy Baum, a senior fellow who studies higher education at the Urban Institute, said the rules are all over the place. 

“There is no uniform policy about under what circumstances students would be owed tuition because of these unanticipated changes,” she said.

Every college sets its own policy. Some won’t refund a penny. Others will do a partial refund up to a certain point in the semester. Still others are handing out vouchers for future tuition. 

If that’s too much uncertainty for you, how about an insurance policy? 

Some insurers offer coverage that reimburses students for tuition if they get COVID-19 and have to leave school. John Fees, the co-founder of GradGuard, an insurance company that works with 366 schools, said he’s been pretty busy.

“We have more than 100,000 customers,” he said, “which is more than doubled from last year.”

Colleges like those insurance policies, said Mark Kantrowitz, who runs the website Savingforcollege.com.  

“The college gets the benefit of knowing that they’re gonna still get their bills paid by the family even if the student is forced to withdraw,” he said. 

And you could go to court. There are already more than 200 lawsuits against institutions of higher learning regarding tuition refunds.

Christopher Marsicano, director of the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, said he doesn’t think the lawsuits will amount to much because “these institutions are still providing an education even if it wasn’t the one that we all wanted to have happen.”

And he said if you aren’t happy with your refund — or lack thereof  — you can always take your business elsewhere. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

Are we going to see another wave of grocery store shortages?

Well, public health officials are warning that we could see a second wave of the virus before the end of the year. And this time retailers want to be prepared if there’s high demand for certain products. But they can’t rely totally on predictive modeling. People’s shopping habits have ebbed and flowed depending on the state of COVID-19 cases or lockdowns. So, grocers are going to have to trust their guts.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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