A University of Minnesota graduate filed a class-action lawsuit this week seeking a partial tuition refund for the 2020 spring semester due to the abrupt, pandemic-induced closure of campus and shift to online learning.
Like most colleges across the country, the U closed its five campuses in mid-March during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court, U graduate Patrick Hyatte alleges the university breached its contract with students by charging full tuition for what amounted to an online-only experience for the second half of the semester. Hyatte and some 49,000 students enrolled at the U’s five campuses should receive prorated refunds of tuition and mandatory student fees for that span of the semester, the lawsuit argues.
“Defendants did not provide the promised in-person educational experiences, services, and opportunities for approximately 50% of the spring 2020 semester,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants have unilaterally elected to shift financial risk onto its students … and unfairly force them to bear burdens of COVID-19.”
Nationwide, students frustrated with online classes have sued their colleges for partial refunds of spring semester tuition and fees. Several cases have cleared initial legal hurdles while others have been rejected.
The U did compensate students who had to move off campus because of the pandemic last spring with prorated room and board refunds, which cost the U about $35 million. Students also received partial refunds for parking contracts and mandatory student fees, which fund campus health care services, sexual misconduct prevention programs, student groups and fitness facilities.
But many students felt they were entitled to a larger sum. More than 3,000 university students signed a petition last spring calling for a partial tuition refund to reflect the switch from an in-person education to online learning.
As an undergraduate student last spring, Hyatte paid about $6,700 in tuition and $1,200 in mandatory fees, the lawsuit states. He received only a “non-proportionate partial refund” of some fees.
Hyatte and attorney Melissa Weiner of Minneapolis law firm Pearson, Simon and Warshaw did not respond to requests for comment.
U spokeswoman Lacey Nygard said the school is aware of the lawsuit but “does not comment on pending litigation.”
Hyatte’s attorneys are seeking class-action status because “class members are so numerous” that it is impractical to expect thousands of students to join the lawsuit.
“The University, through its campuses, has provided plaintiff and class members with the benefits lesser than what was contracted for … all while retaining the higher-priced tuition and mandatory fees paid for in-person, on-campus education and experiences,” the lawsuit states.