Students File Lawsuit against Emory University Seeking a Refund

Parents and others who have made education tuition payments have been outraged by the fact that they have received no refunds in spite of the fact that in-person classes have been canceled and education shifted online. This has been particularly impactful when parents are spending up to $80,000 yearly in tuition and fees at private universities. Some schools are now starting to see lawsuits over their refund policy. One of the most recent lawsuits involved students at Emory University. This is one of the nation's most expensive universities. The students are seeking a partial tuition refund for what they paid for the Spring 2020 semester.

Is a Virtual Education Worth as Much as an In-Person Education?

These lawsuits center on the nature of the bargain between a university and the student. The question is whether the education, standing on its own, is enough to justify the tuition payment. Many parents and students have complained that they are paying premium prices for something that is no different than the University of Phoenix. They believe that the fact that education cannot be given in person necessitates that the universities refund part of the money.

Many colleges have refunded the amounts that families have paid for room and board as the students have been sent home from the physical campuses. However, they have drawn the line at giving money back for tuition. Students have been able to complete their courses remotely through video learning. They have still been able to earn credits for their work and progress towards graduation.

The lawsuit against Emory claims that the premise of the dedication that families are paying for is that it is a hands-on experience. According to them, college is not just what comes from an instructor and the assignments, but it is also the entirety of the experience. The direct interaction between the students and instructors is instrumental as is the interaction between students and their classmates.

The plaintiffs claim that online instruction is an inferior product to classroom instruction. The lawsuit claims that students are more detached from their professors and have more difficulty arranging a time to speak with them since there are no physical office hours.

In addition, the parents claim that student activities are a large part of the overall educational experience that makes it worth money. Even though some universities have refunded activities fees, student activities are generally part of the overall college experience. Not only are activities critical, but the plaintiffs also argue that the facilities that a college provides are also a key part of what they offer. For example, students now do not have full access to the library since they are no longer on campus.

Emory Costs Ten Times as Much as Other Online Georgia Schools

The complaint in the Emory case compares the tuition and fees charged by Emory to those charged by another online Georgia school. The comparison finds than an Emory education is roughly ten times pricier.

For its part, Emory falls back on the quality of its brand as the reason why it has not given any tuition refunds. The school states that an Emory education remains the same no matter what medium delivers it. In other words, Emory says that it still provides high-quality teaching that justifies the full tuition. In its view, the combination of its renowned professors and the fact that students are still earnings credits allow it to retain the tuition that is charged. In addition, the school argues that it can still create a personalized education experience for each student, even if it is online.

Emory is not the only university that has been sued for its refusal to provide refunds for classes moved online. As of May 5, there were lawsuits pending against 25 U.S. universities, and that number promises to grow. Many other pricey private schools have been the subject of these lawsuits, including Vanderbilt and George Washington University. In addition, several Ivy League schools have also been sued along with state schools.

College tuition and fees will continue to be an issue in the future. There is talk that many schools may remain in a virtual mode in the fall semester if the COVID-19 situation does not improve. Then, students will be faced with a choice of whether they remain enrolled and pay full tuition or drop out of school to not pay full price for a virtual education.

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