DePaul University Students Are Suing For Tuition Refunds After COVID-19 Shutdown

Students argue they’re receiving a lesser education with online classes and should get a partial tuition refund.

DePaul
Depaul University’s Lincoln Park campus has been empty classes moved online in March. Two students filed a class action lawsuit asking for partial tuition refunds. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
DePaul
Depaul University’s Lincoln Park campus has been empty classes moved online in March. Two students filed a class action lawsuit asking for partial tuition refunds. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

DePaul University Students Are Suing For Tuition Refunds After COVID-19 Shutdown

Students argue they’re receiving a lesser education with online classes and should get a partial tuition refund.

Two DePaul University students filed a class action lawsuit demanding tuition reimbursements due to the COVID-19 shutdown.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, follows a national trend of students and parents suing for partial refunds after classes shifted online and campuses were shut down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

DePaul announced it would shift classes online for the spring quarter on March 11, and students were required to pay full tuition for that quarter. The complaint argues students are not getting the same educational experience they expected when they enrolled and cannot access the facilities and services they paid for. Therefore, they argue, the university has been “unjustly enriched” and students should receive a partial refund for those tuition and fees.

“Defendants are thus profiting from COVID-19, asking students and their families — many of whom have been laid off, become ill, or are otherwise suffering significantly — to bear the financial brunt of the pandemic,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit asks for a judge to declare a breach of contract and demands student tuition be prorated for the spring and summer terms.

In a statement, DePaul spokesperson Carol Hughes said the lawsuit “attempts to take advantage of difficult decisions DePaul University made to save lives and presents an erroneous view of how the university has responded to the COVID-19 crisis.” She pointed to a series of steps DePaul has taken to assist students, including cancelling a planned tuition increase for next year and allowing students registered for spring quarter to drop their classes and receive a refund.

Students across the Chicago area have pushed other local universities to reimburse for spring tuition due to the shutdown. At the University of Chicago, around 500 students held a “tuition strike” and refused to pay for the spring quarter. However, this is the first university in Chicago to be sued for reimbursement.

At DePaul, students have been pushing the administration to issue tuition refunds, as they did for room and board after the campus shut down. A petition on change.org received more than 5,700 signatures. Total enrollment is around 14,500 undergraduate students and nearly 8,000 graduate students.

Tuition at DePaul depends ranges from $13,000 to $14,000 for each of the three terms or up to $41,600 a year.

The two plaintfitts named in the complaint, Enrique Chavez and Emma Sheikh, are a senior and a master’s student respectively, but the class action lawsuit allows any other student enrolled in the spring and summer to join.

They argue DePaul marketed an educational experience that highlights in-person classes, internship opportunities and other educational and extracurricular activities that students paid for but did not receive.

They also allege the university was not prepared for quality online learning and offered “substandard online instruction” that did not equal the inperson classroom experience of a typical semester.

“Defendants have conceded that DePaul’s delivery of instruction for the spring 2020 quarter and semester would be experimental, even admitted that online learning would be inappropriate for some courses, and communicated that university faculty are merely expected to try their best,” according to the complaint. “Meanwhile, however, students are expected to pay full tuition.”

DePaul is already estimating an $80 million drop in revenue because of the shutdown. It has been allotted $14 million from the federal coronavirus stimulus relief bill, or CARES Act, half of which is required to be distributed to students in grants. According to a campus announcement last week, students should receive an email on how to apply for those grants, which will total $500 each and all students are not guaranteed a grant.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports

This story was updated to include a statement from DePaul University. An earlier version misspelled the name of one of the plaintiffs. The correct spelling is Emma Sheikh.