By Stephen Neukam
Litigation is underway in a lawsuit against Rider for its refusal to issue tuition refunds for the spring 2020 semester, putting the university on a long list of schools facing legal challenges due to its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The suit, brought forward by senior marine sciences major Joscelyn Quiroz and her father, argues that due to the pandemic-related switch to all-remote learning, the university did not provide the benefit of the education that students paid for without refunding tuition and fees. Quiroz is seeking a prorated refund for all students who paid to attend the university in spring 2020.
Quiroz and her father paid the university over $14,000 in spring 2020, according to the suit.
In March 2020, Rider instructed students to not return to campus at the end of spring break and instead canceled all in-person classes and held remote instruction for the remainder of the semester.
The quality of remote education was not on par with the value of a traditional Rider experience, the suit alleges. Instead, “The online learning options being offered to Rider students are subpar in practically every aspect, from the lack of facilities, materials and access to faculty … The remote learning options are in no way the equivalent of the in-person education,” read the suit.
While students did not walk away with tuition refunds for the semester, the university did offer prorated refunds for room and board, a move that cost Rider millions of dollars. Associate Vice President of University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown said those refunds were a “responsive way to soften the financial pain inflicted by COVID-19 on students and their families in very difficult times.”
“Rider did so even if the refund may not have been required and even as the financial hardship inflicted on Rider was severe,” said Brown. “Rider stayed focused on ensuring the continuation of classes so the semester would not be lost, not on whether it might be sued, and through the dedication of faculty and staff, classes continued and were completed, credits were earned and degrees were awarded.”
Two federal coronavirus aid bills, in March and December, pumped money to all universities, many in need of the boost. The federal legislation provided some support for Rider — over $9.1 million in total — but the funds were only a bandaid to a gaping wound.
Students have similarly been left behind by the government. Outside of a moratorium on federal loan payments, students were locked out of stimulus payments and other forms of support.
The legal action puts Rider in line with other universities around the country that have been sued for not offering tuition refunds. It’s a delicate situation that pits universities and their already-strained financial health against its debt-burdened students.
The financial fallout of the pandemic on the university has been steep, coupled with underlying budget issues that exacerbated the fiscal hit. President Gregory Dell’Omo has, in recent months laid out plans for cost-cutting across the university to make up for depressed revenues. While the outlook remains fragile, more should be learned at a town hall meeting with Dell’Omo on Feb. 25.
Quiroz and her representatives could not be reached for this story. The case was moved from the U.S. District Court of New Jersey to the Superior Court of New Jersey in October.
Caption: Senior marine sciences major Joscelyn Quiroz and her father paid the university over $14,000 in spring 2020.