In the second case against Purdue and one of dozens against other colleges across the nation, a student is suing the University for pro-rated tuition and fees he paid but argues he didn't receive the benefits of.
Purdue Fort Wayne student Elijah Seslar filed his complaint and demand for jury trial Wednesday. While his complaint acknowledges that "closing campus and transitioning to online classes was the right thing for Defendant to do," he argues that the decision deprived students like him from benefitting from in-person instruction, student activities and access to campus facilities.
The suit hopes to get refunds for students who paid tuition and other fees on a pro-rated basis, according to court documents. It's one of several class-action lawsuits filed against universities by South Carolina-based Anastopoulo Law Firm on behalf of students. A story by CNBC says students at Drexel University and the University of Miami also filed complaints against their schools for refunds for services they've paid for but not received in full.
Closer to home, a Ball State University student has recently filed a lawsuit alleging similar issues against his university, according to the student newspaper there.
"Plaintiff and members of the Proposed Tuition Class did not choose to attend another institution of higher learning, or to seek an online degree, but instead chose to attend Defendant's institution and enroll on an in-person basis," Seslar's filing states. "Common sense would dictate that the level and quality of instruction an educator can provide through an online format is lower than the level and quality of instruction that can be provided in person."
Some professors are just uploading recorded lectures for students, according to the complaint, offering no chance for students to interact. Others still just upload written assignments without any video instruction.
Beyond paying for in-person instruction, the suit alleges that students across Purdue's regional campuses pay fees for access and maintenance of facilities, equipment, computer labs, recreational sports areas and technology. Since those who have paid these fees are "prohibited from campus," the complaint says they no longer are benefitting from the services they've paid for.
The suit alleges that the "true college experience" comprises more than just "credit hours and degrees" but also social interaction, student groups, intramural, networking opportunities and facility access. Seslar's complaint points out that the on-campus experience in the Purdue system is advertised to potential new students.
"Comprising almost 600 beautiful acres on the banks of the St. Joseph River," one included advertisement reads, "the university conveys a significant presence in the region and boasts a modern campus that includes well-equipped classrooms, impressive research labs, first-rate student housing, popular restaurants and retail, and inviting gathering spaces."
Purdue has yet to offer refunds for tuition and student fees paid for the spring semester, when on-campus instruction was cut short about halfway through the semester. This contrasts sharply with the University's decision to waive access-based fees for those taking classes in the summer term, the suit alleges.
The student fitness and wellness fee and student activity fee have been waived for summer classes that happen during remote learning, currently May and June, according to Purdue's COVID-19 webpage. If remote learning continues into July, the fee will also be waived for that time as well.
"The only difference between Defendant’s decision to discount fees for the Summer and not discount fees for the Spring is that Defendant has already collected fees for the Spring Semester and the Spring Semester students have no recourse," the suit states, "whereas Defendant has not yet collected fees for the Summer term and Defendant knows many students will not agree to pay fees for services that will not be provided during that upcoming term."
"We just received a copy of the complaint yesterday evening and are still reviewing it," Purdue spokesperson Tim Doty said via email Thursday. "We’ve not yet been served."
In reference to this lawsuit, class-action attorney with Anastopoulo Law Firm Roy Willey released the following statement via email Friday.
"These cases are about basic fairness. Colleges and universities are not unlike any other business in America and they too have to tighten their belts during this unprecedented time. They are not any more entitled to keep money for services they are not delivering than the mom and pop bakery on Main Street. Students and their families have pre-paid tuition and fees for services, access to facilities and experiential education and the universities and colleges are not delivering those services, access or experiences. Now universities are not delivering those services that students and their families have paid for and it's not fair for the universities with multi-million dollar endowments to keep all of the money that students and their families have paid. It is not fair to pass the full burden onto students and their families."