Are college students entitled to a refund?

By Matt Salm, Investment Analyst

Colleges and universities across the country have been significantly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases classroom lectures have migrated to an online format. All NCAA events in the spring were cancelled, and fall sports have been called into question. The countless personal interactions that make college so special on the individual level have been put on hold.

This fall, some schools, such as Notre Dame and Arizona State, have announced plans to bring students back to campus in the fall. Other schools, including Milwaukee Area Technical College, where my dad teaches, will still conduct the vast majority of their classes online.

If many aspects of the college experience have changed so drastically, will the cost of attending college change as well? Is a partial refund for the past semester in the cards? If so, when might that refund arrive?

“There’s no national standard, so every school is going to decide what to do,” says Cheryl Winokur Munk, who has been reporting on the issue for the Wall Street Journal. That said, she expects that most schools will NOT be refunding tuition because their students are still being educated, still earning credits, still working towards graduation – albeit in a different setting than usual.

“Many colleges and universities have said they plan to pro-rate charges for room and board based on the date students were asked to leave campus” Munk says. Smaller – but sometimes non-trivial – expenses such as parking fees are also being refunded by a number of schools. That exact details, including when these refunds will hit students’ bank accounts, depend on the institution.

The lack of uniformity in colleges’ responses means the best source of information is each individual school’s website. So, college students would be wise to spend a few minutes investigating the details their institution’s response. He or she might just be eligible for a refund of a few hundred, or perhaps even thousands, of dollars.


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