Learning dissatisfaction lawsuits

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 14th of May, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up, a big case of buyer’s remorse.

EICHER: Colleges across the country had to close suddenly in the middle of March because of coronavirus concerns. That caused some pretty big disruptions in learning. The transition to online classes was smoother for some than for others.

BASHAM: Some students are now filing lawsuits against their schools over the unexpected change. 

Joining us to explain why is Laura Edghill. She writes the weekly education roundup called Schooled for WORLD Digital. Good morning!

LAURA EDGHILL, GUEST: Good morning, Megan!

BASHAM: Start by telling us about the claims these students are making. 

EDGHILL: So, many of these students are just simply not happy with the shift to virtual classes. And, more importantly, they’re dissatisfied with the quality of the product they’re receiving. They claim that online learning is a poor substitute for the real thing—that on-campus experience that they signed up for. And many are claiming that they really see a loss of rigor in particular in their courses. For instance, at the University of California, some of the students in that complaint say that they have professors that have not even uploaded videos for their online classes. And one student on the Purdue University complaint described how he was completely unable to do his final project, which was building an airplane. And, as you can imagine, that’s the kind of thing that just doesn’t translate well to online school. So, the students are claiming their schools are in breach of contract and they cite big differences between tuition for online programs versus in-person programs. For instance, in Philadelphia’s Drexel University case, they cite an online rate that’s 40 percent cheaper than the in-person tuition. So, they’re suing for fees like dorm fees, cafeteria fees, the campus gym, health service, things like that. But in some of the cases, they’re also suing for tuition refunds. They claim they’re simply not getting what they paid for. 

BASHAM: How many schools are we talking about here?

EDGHILL: Well, nearly 30 at this point and the list continues to grow. Late last week an Indiana University student filed the latest. And it’s a variety of schools, too. You have elites like Brown, Columbia, Cornell, but you also have big public schools like Michigan State and the entire University of California system. And, unfortunately, Christian colleges have not been spared. Liberty University is on the receiving end of one of the lawsuits as well. 

BASHAM: I understand these are mostly class-action lawsuits. Can you talk a little about that?

EDGHILL: That’s right. There are a number of law firms involved. One in particular, South Carolina’s Anastopoulo Law Firm, they currently are involved with several of these lawsuits and they actually have a dedicated page on their website actively seeking college students who were forced off campus due to COVID-19 closures. And the universities are expressing frustration. They see these lawsuits as opportunistic and they claim they’re doing the best they can. And, to be fair, flipping the switch to online programs is a really heavy lift in the best of circumstances.  

BASHAM: Yeah, we’ve been experiencing that with our school and I can’t imagine this is anything more than an even bigger mess for colleges and universities. 

EDGHILL: Yes, it is a real mess for the schools. They’re in a tight spot. They’re wary of financial concessions like refunds now due to massive uncertainty about what fall will bring. And, as we all know, Dr. Fauci is not promising a vaccine any time soon, which means that fall classes could very well still be online. They’ll have to think about their tuition rates for sure, if that’s the case. And, meanwhile, the colleges are trying to retain quality faculty by continuing to pay salary and benefits, not to mention upkeep on campuses that are currently ghost towns. Now, I will say that many colleges that you’re not hearing about in the news have already offered fee refunds and even tuition reductions. That’s painful now, but probably less painful than enduring a lawsuit or losing students from their future enrollment due to dissatisfaction. And it looks like that uncertainty’s going to continue well into the fall. I know just earlier this week California’s public universities announced that they will definitely not hold in-person classes next semester and I expect a wave of similar announcements. 

BASHAM: Laura Edghill covers education for WORLD Digital. Look for her weekly reports in the Schooled roundup on wng.org. Thanks for joining us today!  

EDGHILL: You’re welcome, Megan!

(Associated Press/Photo by Mark Lennihan) The campus of Columbia University in New York.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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