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Students from New York’s Columbia and Pace universities filed separate class-action lawsuits calling to be reimbursed for their tuitions or housing costs after their semesters were cut short and their coursework moved online amid the new coronavirus pandemic, court papers show.
Xaviera Marbury, a full-time business student at Pace, claimed the university “markets the benefits of its on-campus learning experience,” and asks students to pay the higher tuition for the hands-on, in-person education.
But as the nation responded to the effects of COVID-19, Pace University, as well as most, if not all universities, sent students home and transitioned to the online teaching model.
Marbury who paid $9,380 in housing costs for the spring 2020 semester, said students were ordered to leave campus on March 11.
Pace, which has an endowment of approximately $182 million, announced it would “issue on-campus housing refunds as follows: $2,000 for students living on the New York campus and $1,600 for students living on the Pleasantville campus and at Haub Law,” the court papers state.
“This planned refund is both completely arbitrary and wholly inadequate,” the suit states, noting that housing on the New York campus costs, on average, $10,073 per semester, while dorms on the Westchester Campus cost an average of $8,000 per semester.
“The housing cost refund offered by Defendant equates to a refund of roughly 20 [percent] of the full cost that Plaintiff and members of the On-Campus Housing Class… had already pre-paid,” the document states. Marbury “and other members of the On-Campus Housing Class have been and will be deprived of roughly 50 [percent[ of the on-campus housing time for which they have already bargained and paid.”
The university has allegedly refused to reimburse meal plan costs.
A Pace University spokesperson told FOX Business the university has not yet been served with the court papers and said the school is planning to use CARES Act funding to support its students when the money becomes available.
“Pace University, like other colleges and universities across the globe, was forced to quickly adjust to the effect of a pandemic on our institution. The faculty, staff and leaders of Pace continue to work tirelessly to support our students during this challenging time,” the spokesperson said. “Housing fee adjustments for students who had to leave the residence halls are being issued.”
Meanwhile, the Columbia University student, who is studying social work and chose to remain anonymous in the suit, makes a similar argument and is seeking $5 million in damages.
“[T]his decision deprived Plaintiff and the other members of the Class from recognizing the benefits of in-person instruction, access to campus facilities, students activities, and other benefits and services in exchange for which they had already paid fees and tuitions,” the court papers state.
Columbia University, which has an $11 billion endowment, was allotted $12.8 million in in federal coronavirus relief funding.
The student’s yearly tuition costs $58,612, in addition to campus-based fees. Tuition for a semester of online learning would have cost $48,780, the lawsuit claims.
But still, the suit claims, the school “has refused and continues to refuse to offer any refund whatsoever with respect to the tuition that has already been paid.
But Columbia has refunded other menial costs. For example, the student was reimbursed “$119” for a total of $1,065 in mandatory fees, according to the suit.
A spokesperson for Columbia University would not comment on the pending litigation.
Roy Willey, a class-action attorney who represents both students, said in a statement provided to FOX Business that the cases “are about basic fairness.”
“Colleges and universities are not unlike any other business in America and they too have to tighten their belts during this unprecedented time,” Willey said. “[I]t’s not fair for the universities with multi-million dollar endowments to keep all of the money that students and their families have paid. It is not fair to pass the full burden onto students and their families."
The New York Post reported a similar lawsuit was filed against New York's Long Island University.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.