Off Campus and Online: College Students Seeking Tuition Refunds

College students across Illinois are asking their universities for some amount of tuition refund. 

That’s because most universities have moved their students off campus and their classes online due to the coronavirus. But many students don’t see their online classes as equivalent to their in-school experience. 

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On top of that, with many students and their families losing jobs, the cost of a semester at school has become unaffordable for some.

“At the end of the day, these are students with bills to pay,” said John Donners, a junior at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Donners has been organizing a petition calling for a tuition reimbursement from UIC. While it has over 7,000 signatures so far, the school’s administration said it has not considered such a move.

In a statement provided to WTTW, UIC Chancellor Micheal Amiridis said: 

“Since UIC continues to teach all courses remotely, we have not considered a partial refund on tuition. However, we are considering a partial refund of the fees for interrupted services (recreation, student centers, student programming, athletics, etc.), as well as of some lab fees associated with specific courses. We will finalize the decision this week.” 

Some students argue that the entire nature of schooling has changed because of classes moving online. Donners said he’s spoken to music majors, for example, who have had difficulty transitioning their classes to videoconferencing platforms.

And it’s not just the method of learning that has changed. Because of the virus, thousands of students and their family members are now unemployed. Luis Rubio, a sophomore at the University of Chicago, is scrambling to adjust.

“Since I was kicked out of housing, I had to find housing and now I’m here trying to find a job to pay for food since housing or food isn’t subsidized through the university.” Rubio said. “I shouldn’t have to pay that much attention to these things while trying to manage school.” 

Rubio has been helping organize a strike among University of Chicago students, who are calling for a 50% tuition reduction and an elimination of fees. On top of that, over 650 students are considering participating in a tuition strike by withholding their spring quarter tuition if the university doesn’t negotiate with them. 

Rubio said the university hasn’t given them many options, though it has floated the idea of taking leaves of absence.

“Just telling us to taken a leave of absence doesn’t tell us that the university is here for their students,” Rubio said. 

The University of Chicago did not respond to a request for comment. 

With many students now unemployed, there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead. The libraries and printing stations are closed, leaving many questioning how they’ll be able to afford books. 

“It’s affecting a lot of first-generation and low-income students that have to figure out how to maneuver this moment,” Rubio said. “It’s changing more and more every day and who knows what’s going to happen in a week with families getting sick and more people becoming unemployed.” 

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