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

Erika Beras Aug 19, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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