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Do Colleges Need to Refund Classes Canceled Because of a Pandemic or Natural Disaster?

If you have been sent home with unfinished classes, you may be seeking a refund for uncompleted classwork or unused food budgets and dorm rooms. When do colleges offer refunds? And what should you do if your college refuses to give you one?

Refunds Before Class Starts

Generally, you can get a 100% refund before a class starts, or if the class is canceled before the semester begins. If you drop the class outside of the refund time frame, then you may lose the money.

Technically, each college can decide if they will refund unused services or not. Many do not have plans in place for unpredictable and extended time off of school for students. Illnesses, unsafe campus conditions, or natural disasters can change a school's ability to function normally. This can leave school boards scrambling to determine new policies.

No Refund When Classes Can Be Completed Online

Since the majority of classes can be handled online, some colleges elect to switch to video or interactive chat learning formats when faced with unexpected campus closures.

Classes that need hands-on time, such as mechanical or medical skills, may be canceled or offered during another time (such as summer). Some universities may even graduate their students early without completing the final weeks of schoolwork.

Most colleges do not offer money back for classes that are completed online, as the students still get the class credits they paid for.

If you are being charged for a class that was not completed, you may have grounds to fight back with the help of an education law attorney.

Room and Board Should Be Refunded

Paying for food and dorm rooms that are no longer in use is frustrating. While some colleges immediately refund this money, others make the process more complex. Some schools do not have the financial security to refund the money and stay afloat for the coming academic year.

With room and board costing well over $10,000 for the school year, a conservative estimate, it is no wonder that people want their money back. For example:

  • Say your dorm and meals cost $10,000 for the average 36-week semester
  • This comes out to about $278 a week for your dorm and cafeteria meals
  • Say colleges send their students home from early March through May – about 11 weeks
  • Students would lose over $3,058 in services they did not use

However, you may have rights to unused services that you paid for in tuition fees. Colleges could face class action lawsuits for not refunding money to their students.

There are student housing laws for all students, so knowing your rights when you cannot live in your dorm is the first step.

Modified Room and Board

Pay attention to your schools' emails and policies during natural disasters or a pandemic. They may choose to:

  • Send students home
  • Allow modified cafeteria hours
  • Ban outside food or food containers
  • Remove self-serve food options from cafeterias
  • Allow petitions for students who cannot return home
  • Allow some students to stay in mostly vacant dorms
  • Continue room and board like usual with added safety measures

It may be challenging to get a refund in some of these situations because the dorms and meals are technically still an available service.

Other Financial Concerns For College Students Facing Cancellations

While frustrating, the answer to these concerns is that it depends on your school's individual responses and policies. If you are sent home from college, you should consider the following financial matters:

  • Students on work-study programs need to check if they are going to be paid for the remainder of the year. Since they cannot work their job, they may owe money back to the school or be able to make it up the following year. Some schools do not require the work to be made up, allowing the student to keep the funding.
  • Students who work on campus without a work-study program might not be paid for the rest of the year or may be able to apply for unemployment.
  • Financial aid packages may be altered by universities shutting down. Since many classes can continue online, some financial aid may continue like usual.
  • Student health insurance plans (if applicable) may be able to continue to cover students. Call your school for questions about pick up or mailed prescriptions, rescheduling on-site medical appointments, or virtual therapy sessions with a school therapist.
  • Summer school may continue as planned or be canceled. You may have the option to not receive a refund and attend these classes online.
  • School property like laptops or lab equipment may need to be returned before the year ends.
  • Alternative solutions for students that do not have a home computer or internet may be available free of charge. You may be able to work with your schools or teachers to accommodate you, such as attending classes by phone.

Steps to Take for Unused Room and Board

If you are sent home and are worried about a room and board refund, you should:

  1. Read the school policy and financial agreements. They may have a plan already in place for unused room and board.
  2. Email or call your school and ask for a refund for unused room and board
  3. Take note of what the college offers you — some schools may only offer partial refunds
  4. Wait to agree to the partial refund or other deals the university may try to make with you
  5. Calculate the costs you are losing and compare it to what the school is offering
  6. Speak with an attorney if you feel the amount you would get back is unfair

Students and parents may form class action lawsuits against various universities and colleges. If you need help fighting for refunds, there are skilled attorneys who know the educations laws in your state.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified education attorney to help you navigate education rights and laws.

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