In the 10 weeks or so since the coronavirus turned all of our worlds upside down, we’ve seen many examples of selflessness and kindness.
However, human beings are flawed creatures, so we’ve also witnessed many examples of selfishness and cynicism.
For an example of the latter, look no further than the flurry of lawsuits that have been filed against colleges and universities around the country by students and the opportunistic lawyers representing them, asking that part of their spring tuition be refunded because campuses had to close due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, a class-action lawsuit was filed against California University of Pennsylvania asking that all of the students who attend the school receive a pro-rated refund for the portion of the semester their classes were online. The suit argues that the education Cal U. offered through the online courses was substandard and students missed out on all the other benefits of campus life.
Ashleigh Coffman, a Greensburg marketing major who graduated this spring, is the lead plaintiff in the suit. When contacted by the Observer-Reporter, she said she worked two jobs to get through Cal U. She also said her attorney was going to file a similar suit against the University of Pittsburgh. We wouldn’t be at all surprised if other institutions of higher education in the region are targeted. So far, suits like Coffman’s have been filed against such universities as Rutgers, Brown, Cornell and Purdue.
Working two jobs to get a bachelor’s degree is an admirable display of grit and determination, and, sure, it had to be inconvenient and disruptive for Coffman and her fellow students to be barred from Cal U.’s facilities and spend weeks learning from home. But the fact is they did receive an education from qualified instructors. If they were sufficiently motivated, students completed their coursework, received a passing grade and credits toward graduation. That, at the most basic level, is what they are paying for.
Colleges and universities were in an unenviable position when they had to tell students to leave campus, or not return from spring break. Some did not have online learning programs in place, and instructors had to quickly improvise. If they had stayed open, campuses would have been hotbeds of disease transmission, and would have posed a grave danger to the communities that surround them. And colleges and universities have already taken a severe hit as a result of the coronavirus lockdowns, since they have had to partially refund student activity fees and fees for room and board. In Pennsylvania, the State System of Higher Education, which includes Cal U., will lose $70 million to $100 million as a result of having to refund some fees.
If colleges and universities had to partially refund spring tuition, more money would be lost, faculty and staff would be laid off, programs and majors could well be axed, the cost of tuition would escalate and the amount of financial aid available to students would be reduced.
Who would be the losers in the long run? The students who are today clamoring for refunds.