USC students are suing the school for not refunding tuition and fees after the university canceled in-person instruction because of the coronavirus public health threat, a law firm said Tuesday.
The class-action lawsuit, Watson vs. the University of Southern California, alleges that USC is unlawfully refusing to refund all or part of students’ spring 2020 tuition, fees and meal plans, “despite the dramatically lower quality and less valuable education and services now being provided,” according to the complaint, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California.
“Essentially, students have paid Defendants for access to buildings they can no longer enter, technology the University is not providing, activities that are not available, and meals that will never be served,” the complaint says. “USC is thus profiting from COVID-19 while further burdening students and their families.”
The lawsuit against USC follows others filed against the University of California and California State University last week alleging that the university systems owe millions of dollars to students who can no longer use health facilities, student centers and other services paid for by fees.
Provost Charles F. Zukoski announced last week that USC would not provide partial tuition refunds for spring or summer sessions. He said the university did provide prorated housing and dining fee refunds to students who vacated university housing.
USC said that it was “disappointed” by the lawsuit but that the university took “extraordinary steps” to maintain the educational experience for students.
“USC pivoted immediately to deliver quality instruction in an online format,” the university said. “Faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to connect with students to ensure that academic work continues on track and that progress toward the completion of a USC degree continues.”
The suit against USC alleges breach of contract and unfair business practices, among other things, on behalf of an estimated 40,000 students who paid tuition and fees for in-person education during the spring 2020 term and did not receive those services or adequate refunds.
The lead plaintiff, Latisha Watson, is a master’s of social work student who lives off campus and doesn’t own a car, according to the complaint. She took out loans to pay $21,886.38 in tuition and fees for the spring semester, including $675 for a meal plan she can no longer use and for which she received no partial refund. The lawsuit seeks, for her and for other members of the class, a refund of the unused portion of meal plan fees and of a percentage of tuition.
“Despite receiving [an] influx of federal funds, Defendants refuse to refund or reimburse Plaintiff and similarly-situated USC students,” the lawsuit says.
USC will receive more than $19 million in federal aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. At least half of the funds must be spent directly on emergency aid for students. The other half may be used for institutional costs resulting from disruptions caused by the COVID-`19 pandemic, including reimbursing the university for refunds issued to students for room and board, tuition and other fees, according to guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.