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Students Demand Tuition Refunds Due To COVID-19 Online Switch


If you paid to see a concert live and then had to watch it online, would you demand your money back or at least a partial refund? This is the type of situation students are facing around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, many college campuses had to shut their doors and move to remote learning through online instruction. As a result, there are students asking for tuition refunds due to COVID-19.

While there is certainly no harm in receiving an online education, students who paid to attend a traditional college campus are arguing that it’s not what they agreed to pay for. As such, there are class-action lawsuits springing up at universities around the nation to address the financial burdens and rightful next steps.

The actions are ongoing, and some courts are allowing the lawsuits to move into a trial, whereas others are being shut down in their early stages. Let’s take a look at what’s going on in America with regards to education, finances, and the pandemic.

Student working on a laptop while wearing a face mask during COVID-19 pandemic

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Main Argument: A Student’s Perspective

The rising cost of traditional higher education is not something to overlook. Tuition varies based on type of institution, program, and location, but in 2019-2020, the average yearly price of tuition, room and board, and fees amounted to $30,500.

Students who have chosen to attend on-campus colleges do so for a variety of reasons, including:

  • The college experience
  • Living on campus
  • Socialization benefits
  • To join organizations
  • College sports
  • College campus activities
  • Networking opportunities

With just these few reasons, students who have had to shift to online learning from their once on-campus experience are making the argument that this isn’t what they signed up for and agreed to pay for. Since they aren’t receiving all that the school charged them for attendance, they are demanding tuition refunds due to COVID-19.

A University’s Perspective

On the other side of the aisle sits university board members and stakeholders, and their respective legal council. Some arguments that are resounding in response to students’ demands for refunds is that:

  1. Students aren’t specifying how much money they want returned
  2. It’s impossible to truly quantify the difference in cost for the experiences given this unprecedented situation
  3. Inability to stipulate that either party agreed to in-person instruction versus online (because it was just a given when attending a traditional university that classes happen in-person)

Regarding the third argument, some judges are willing to concede to reimbursements for the cost of recreation fees, since this is something that students have undoubtedly not received although it’s included in the cost of attending traditional campuses.

Furthermore, the government has aided public universities and institutions of education to help both students and the institutions survive the crisis. For example, California’s university systems have received over $785 million between their two main systems (University of California and California State Universities).

Now the question remains as to who must handle the burden and financial effects of transitioning from in-person instruction to online learning. Students are fighting back by stringing together for class-action lawsuits and petitions on platforms like There’s been no specific outcome just yet as the situation continues to develop.

The Transition to Online Learning

The outcome of COVID-19 has moved students into online learning. While some still see the value, others are not convinced it’s the same.

Third Way and New America commissioned a survey in August 2020 that highlighted the effects of rising debt, as well as the concern about getting jobs after graduation in an economy that is struggling. More than half of the students surveyed (54%) felt their degree could lose value because it’s online. Others do believe that their degree is still worthwhile and they will not change their plans or career prospects.

From the same survey, half of respondents believe that higher education just isn’t worth the cost anymore. While there is no one right or wrong answer since it’s a matter of opinion, there is definitely a case that proves online education is worthwhile and more affordable than traditional alternatives.

Benefits of Online Education

At University of the People, we were founded with the mission to provide affordable and accessible higher education that is of top-notch quality. This is because there’s no arguing that higher education has become unaffordable and unnecessarily so.

To combat rising costs, our tuition-free programs are overseen by professors from top institutions around the world. With the aid of volunteers and an online platform dedicated to learning through a pedagogical model, we are able to establish an accredited institution that is degree-granting and prepares graduates to enter the workforce.

While it’s a stark shift for students who did expect to have an on-campus educational experience, moving online can still provide some benefits. In most cases, it ends up being more flexible, affordable, and accessible when compared to traditional institutions of education.

College student attending online college while sitting on a bench outside

Photo by Shayna Douglas on Unsplash

The Future of Education

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered life for absolutely everyone around the world. From students who had to transition to online learning to professionals who lost their jobs, there has been a lot of upheaval at the hands of the seemingly uncontrollable virus.

However, it’s important to see the bright side despite students asking for tuition refunds due to COVID-19. Regardless of what the outcome is, there has been a mass transformation and deepened acceptance of earning a degree online. While this is something UoPeople has stood for since 2009, it is an educational revolution that takes time to become accepted (and the pandemic may be speeding up the surrounding sentiments). The future of education relies on agility, collaboration, and creative solutions by which online education can surely provide.

University of the People