University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel will present a new student fee refund proposal at a special Board of Regents meeting Friday.
The move follows a wave of criticism from students who said they were not getting the refunds they deserved for unused housing and dining services.
The U came under scrutiny in recent weeks after it announced it would refund $1,200 in room and board costs to students who had to move off campus because of the pandemic. Most Twin Cities students pay more than $5,000 per semester for a combination of student housing and meal plans. Half of the spring semester, which spans from Jan. 21 to May 13, remained when the university canceled in-person classes at its five campuses on March 11 and encouraged students not to return after spring break.
“My team has been working around the clock on a comprehensive student fee refund proposal that encompasses all students, at all levels, on all five of our campuses,” Gabel said in a message to students Wednesday night. “This systemwide approach considers the Housing and Residential Life credits announced March 23, along with other expenses and fees in light of the ‘Stay at Home’ mandate and related circumstances that have emerged.”
The university’s first proposed refund of $1,200 was made with “guidance from internal and external experts and peer institutions,” Gabel said earlier. It also accounted for fixed costs the U will absorb, she said, such as paying staff and keeping housing and dining services running for the students who chose to remain in campus dorms.
Students, regents and state lawmakers were quick to criticize the refund. Other Minnesota colleges have offered prorated refunds for unused housing and dining services that help students recoup close to half of their costs.
U students circulated petitions with hundreds of signatures over the past two weeks calling for a “fair refund” for the services. They said they should not be on the hook for staff costs and noted the $1,200 refund amounted to a little more than a fifth of their total semester costs for campus housing and meal plans.
Some members of the Board of Regents, which approves tuition rates, had said they were disappointed U administrators did not consult them on the initial refund decision.
The issue also came under legislative scrutiny.
State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said Monday he is drafting a bill that would require Minnesota colleges and universities to refund 90% of students’ unused room and board expenses. Garofalo had said he hoped “some universities will be responding by adjusting their policies” so that the Legislature won’t need to take action.
The Friday board meeting starts at 10 a.m. and will be streamed online.