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Tuition lawsuits misguided

During their future career choices and work lives, most of today’s college students will be confronted with unexpected, challenging circumstances that they will need to manage and navigate, using their best judgment, talents and instincts.

Unfortunately, they now are being forced to experience an early crash course in that, the result of the tragic coronavirus pandemic.

That being acknowledged, some people across America might be questioning the thinking of college students who have launched an effort to recover spring tuition, room and board and fees because their schools closed and moved classes online — actionss that most people judge as having been correct.

Still, the moves of some schools are not beyond second-guessing, particularly those in early hot-spot areas that sent their students home, not realizing the potential devastating effect on parents and grandparents, if those students had been exposed to the virus and suddenly were being required to take that exposure home.

According to an article in the April 11-12 edition of the Wall Street Journal, students have filed lawsuits against Drexel University and the University of Miami — filings aimed at becoming class actions — claiming that the schools are failing to give them the educational experience they paid for, one with in-person instruction.

While the students seemingly have grounds for pursuing refunds for room and board, they shouldn’t be pursuing return of tuition money, at least from schools where professors have been proactive in providing the best educational experience possible within the challenges that the coronavirus has inflicted.

Some in the higher-education community lament that there are professors who have chosen not to provide lectures online — choosing, instead, just to email students — thus possibly lessening students’ learning opportunities.

Those critics probably are right in judging reduced contact as counterproductive.

Nevertheless, the availability of online classes in whatever form has continued to allow students to move closer to graduation. Opponents of what is happening at Drexel and Miami might wonder if the students would prefer “erasing” their spring classes until the closings cease — extending the length of their college careers and delaying their entry into the workforce.

Special circumstances require understanding, flexibility and extra effort. Concern is reasonable regarding the ultimate financial impact on colleges in much of the nation if they have to mount costly defenses against class-action lawsuit filings.

The Journal article points out that “attorneys who represent universities say schools refusing to reimburse tuition is rooted in firm legal ground: By continuing to hold classes for credit remotely, they are fulfilling the terms of their contract.”

The article quotes James Keller, co-chairman of the higher-education practice at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP in Philadelphia, where Drexel is located, who said, “The students are going to have an uphill battle unless a school has actually shut down and they’re not getting credit.”

These times are demanding adaptation in this country to a degree not witnessed since World War II. Unfortunately, the education community at all levels has not been spared.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, all schools will have the opportunity to judge their performance during this terrible time.

While students have the right to pursue reasonable reimbursement for what they haven’t received, they must not be unreasonable in what they demand.

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