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Northeastern doesn't owe students tuition refunds for classes moved online due to coronavirus, judge rules

A federal judge ruled today that Northeastern University never specifically promised students they would be educated in person and so tossed most of a class-action suit against the school over tuition and fees for this past spring's semester.

US District Court Judge Richard Stearns ruled the students could continue their case over a fee the university charged for use of athletic facilities and for admission to school sporting events, but that fee is only $60 a semester, compared to the roughly $26,000 Northeastern charged for tuition for the Covid-19-altered spring semester.

In a class-action suit, two students, one an undergraduate, the other a graduate student, alleged that a "financial responsibility agreement" they signed with Northeastern promised them in-person classes and that they wanted their money back - plus penalties and attorneys fees, for both themselves and all other students.

Stearns, however, said he agreed with the university that the agreement promised no such thing.

The [agreement] provides for students to "pay all tuition, fees, and other associated costs" incurred as a result of "registering for any class or receiving any service from Northeastern." It ties the payment of tuition to registration for courses, not to the receipt of any particular method of course instruction.

The two also said that in-person instruction became part of their contract when they registered for classes to "be taught within an assigned room in specific buildings."

But Stearns said the students' legal complaint:

[L}acks any allegation which might allow the court to reasonably infer that these descriptions were meant to be read "in conjunction with" [the agreement] – for example, that the descriptions appear on the registration website and are part of the enrollment process itself or that students generally understand the information in the description to be definitive.

Stearns said the students could, however, continue their suit when it comes to the $60 recreation fee since that was tied very specifically to access to locations on the Northeastern campus, such a fitness center and the student center.

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Comments

Wasn’t implied they’d be taught in person ? Northeastern got lucky

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I wonder if the registration page for courses listed a room number the classes?

You're paying for the totality of the topics covered, not renting a seat for 12 hours a week.

If students want a refund, they should be given one. But in that case they should also loose the credits and be required to retake the classes if they want to graduate.

... as to whether there's a Magnuson-Moss claim to be made, maybe?

Damn, that's harsh. It may not technically be in writing, but I think the expectation is that you're paying for in-person classes, not online ones. However, I do notice on the Northeastern website that they do not differentiate between in-person and online when specifying the cost per credit. If you're doing online only then, you're really kind of getting screwed!

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Depending on the subject matter, you can usually get the same amount out of these classes that you might in person.

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Then reimburse the students for the difference between in class and online classes. One is usually much cheaper than the other.
I don’t feel bad for northeastern. Judge ruled in their favor only because they knew there would be a domino effect of people suing schools

That's the point I think. Although online classes are usually set up in a specific way, usually though a group portal where classmates and professors can share papers, info, etc.

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These particular students signed a legal, binding contract to uphold the rules of mask-wearing and social distancing, and against having large gatherings of in one place, particularly indoors, which were put in place for the protection of these students, as well as others. These particular students in question violated that contract after signing it, and they deserve to be kicked off campus, and to not have their tuition refunded.

Let me take a wild guess and say when you attended University it wasn’t 21k a semester

it was way back in the fall of 1970-1971, well before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Times are way different right now than they were back then.

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That's not what this lawsuit is about. It's about having in person classes replaced with online classes.

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If you had, you might have noticed that this article is not about the students who were suspended for violating the pandemic rules, it's about something else.

The [agreement] provides for students to "pay all tuition, fees, and other associated costs" incurred as a result of "registering for any class or receiving any service from Northeastern." It ties the payment of tuition to registration for courses, not to the receipt of any particular method of course instruction.

I can imagine this clip being attached to the Appeal.

About science classes that require a lab. Should they be treated the same athletic facilities? Students can't just hook up a Bunsen burner to a USB port on their laptop.