University of Minnesota students who had to move off campus because of the pandemic will now receive full refunds for unused housing and dining services from March 28 through the end of the spring semester.

Students will also receive refunds for parking contracts, recreation center dues and fees for student services and transportation and safety. The new student fee refund model, which was approved by the Board of Regents on Friday morning on an 8-4 vote, was brought forward after a wave of criticism from students who said they were being shortchanged for unused housing and dining services.

The U initially proposed a room-and-board refund of $1,200 for Twin Cities students and $1,000 for those on its system campuses. Most Twin Cities students pay more than $5,000 per semester for housing and meal plans, and half the semester remained when the U canceled in-person classes at its five campuses March 11 and encouraged students not to return after spring break.

“This is a refund to reflect how campus life has changed,” U President Joan Gabel said Friday. “Our administration is committed to carefully considering every decision we make, and if we need to improve it or need to evolve so that we can be better or stronger for our students, we will do so.”

The U estimates it will lose $27.8 million in revenue by issuing the larger refunds.

For students on the Twin Cities campus, the refunds could amount to nearly double what was originally proposed. Students who used the most common housing and meal plan options could recoup nearly $2,400, said associate vice president of university finance Julie Tonneson.

But the refunds will vary among students, she said. On the U’s other system campuses, the refunds could average between $1,400 and $1,900.

“This change will have a very positive effect on students, providing additional cost relief when students need it most,” said Ken Powell, chairman of the Board of Regents.

He voted in favor of Gabel’s proposal, along with Regents Steve Sviggum, Thomas Anderson, Richard Beeson, Mary Davenport, Janie Mayeron, David McMillan and Kao Ly Ilean Her.

Regents Michael Hsu, Darrin Rosha, Randy Simonson and Mike Kenyanya voted against the proposal because they thought students deserved a better refund.

The dissenting regents took issue with the proposed start date of March 28 for the proration, which is based on when Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order took effect. Gabel said she chose that date because fewer students were on campus then compared to immediately after spring break.

Still, many students had moved out of their dorms well before the order took effect. U administrators urged students not to return to campus on March 16.

“At $40 or $50 a day, that’s pretty significant,” Hsu said of the potential refund difference. He offered an amendment to move the start of the proration from March 28 to March 18.

That would have put the U more in line with other Minnesota public colleges. Across the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, average room and board costs of about $4,400 per semester are being refunded on a prorated basis starting from a date immediately before or after spring break, according to a system spokesman.

The change would likely have increased U student refunds by hundreds of dollars. It also would have amounted to an additional $6.7 million revenue loss for the university, administrators said.

The resolution failed on a 6-6 vote.

Hsu predicted the U will face lawsuits for not refunding students for the entire time they have been off campus. Rosha said the board’s decision to not approve the March 18 date is an “unforced error” that will hurt the U’s reputation.

“I think this will set us up for criticism as to why we’re retaining funds that students paid for which they did not receive value,” Rosha said.

 

Twitter: @ryanfaircloth