The University of Southern California is facing a lawsuit from students claiming that they should be reimbursed for tuition.
Schools across the country are weathering similar claims, and the entire UC system has been hit with a class action lawsuit over COVID-19 tuition reimbursement.
According to the most recent claims against USC, made by a graduate student, the university’s choice to move classes online to prevent the spread of the coronavirus should have warranted reimbursement.
The complaint says that refunds should have been provided for at least part of the tuition charged for the spring 2020 semester and summer session, as well as for some of the fees the school charges on top of tuition.
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The USC tuition reimbursement class action lawsuit was filed by Latisha Watson who is pursuing her Master of Social Work at the school. She says that she took out more than $20,000 in loans just to cover the spring 2020 semester’s tuition and fees.
However, after the school closed in-person activities and classes, she claims that the school refused to offer students a refund.
Allegedly, this decision to refuse students refunds was made despite the school’s considerable existing resources. Watson notes that school had even received federal funds to help offset the costs associated with the pandemic.
In her eyes, the school is choosing to profit from the pandemic instead of fairly compensating students. Allegedly, the school is effectively passing off the costs of COVID-19 to the students. However, Watson states that this is unlawful and unfair to students.
Watson explains that she has not attended any in-person classes since March 13. Around this time, the Provost of the University, Charles Zukowski, reportedly sent an email to all students informing them that the university would not be refunding any tuition for spring or summer classes.
According to the USC class action lawsuit, Watson’s education, and the education of all other students who intended to participate in the university’s in-person classes, changed radically because of the school’s decision to move classes online. She uses the Master in Social Work program to illustrate this change.
She explains that the university offers both an online and an in-person Master in Social Work degree and charges the same tuition for both degrees.
She states that the online program is run with the use of online tools and a digital interface called U2. Allegedly, these tools are valuable and well-honed.
According to Watson, the school values the tools so much that it has agreed to pay U2 60 percent of the tuition from the program.
However, Watson explains that this streamlined and effective online learning experience was not what she and other in-person students received when their classes were switched online.
She says that the in-person students were not added to the online U2 classes. Instead, she states that the students were placed in “haphazard” classes run primarily through Zoom conferencing. Allegedly, there were multiple problems with the set up of these classes.
The USC tuition refund class action lawsuit says that she is being charged the same amount for her education as the online program students are, though their educational experiences are vastly different.
She offers examples of how she believes that the experiences are different, noting that her online Zoom classes contain around 20 to 30 students while the U2 classes contain no more than 12 students to ensure that “the educational experience is not hindered by large class sizes.”
The plaintiff also notes that the U2 classes account for challenges and realities of the online learning experience, while the ramshackle Zoom classes do not have these challenges adequately dealt with.
While the U2 classes are shorter in length to account for online learning fatigue, the Zoom classes run for three hours at a time, which Watson argues is not sustainable.
The USC class action lawsuit goes on to explain that the university has significant resources, but has still chosen to financially burden students by not refunding tuition or fees.
Allegedly, the university is set to receive $19 million in federal aid to help the school cope with the financial burdens of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Los Angeles Times explains that at least half of this money, given to the school through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), must be spent on emergency aid for students.
Despite this aid, and the school’s significant endowment, the school has allegedly chosen to financially burden students with the cost of the coronavirus pandemic, says Watson.
Watson is represented by Benjamin Galdston of Berger Montague.
The University of Southern California COVID-19 Tuition Repayment Class Action Lawsuit is Latisha Watson v. The University of Southern California, et al., Case No. 2:20-cv-04107-CJC-AFM, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
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