Not long after colleges and universities across the country were forced to shift to virtual learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the lawsuits began.
With a handful of law firms driving the charge, students soon started filing class-action complaints against their schools — including Philadelphia’s three largest universities — arguing their remote education isn’t worth the full tuition price they paid for the spring semester. It’s likely more lawsuits will follow, but legal experts say the students’ claims face an uphill battle as it will be difficult to calculate damages, argue their degree is worth less or get past legal protections that cover unpredictable "acts of God."
Temple University, Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania all face lawsuits filed on behalf of students by South Carolina-based Anastopoulo law firm, which has also sued other schools nationwide. Each local lawsuit alleges two major claims: breach of contract and unjust enrichment.
They argue the schools and students entered into a contract where the students pay full tuition in return for in-person classes and benefits that can only be provided on campus, and the colleges allegedly broke that contract by shifting to virtual lessons. The unjust enrichment claim alleges the schools are thus keeping funds they should return to students.
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While each local school is either refunding or not charging students for services they can’t use, such as room and board and meal plans, they aren’t refunding students’ tuition dollars. In general, they argue students are still receiving the same courses from the same professors, who are largely still being paid the same salaries, and have access to other services remotely, like mental health care and extracurriculars.