A student is suing UNC Charlotte and other schools in the UNC System for failing to adequately reimburse students after transitioning to online-only classes in light of COVID-19, part of a country-wide campaign dubbed College Refund 2020.
Brady Wayne Allen, a senior finance major from Winston-Salem, is party to a class-action lawsuit leveled by high-profile litigator Roy T. Willey. In the lawsuit, Allen alleges that UNC Charlotte’s decision to make all classes remote entitles him and other impacted students prorated tuition discounts — i.e., a tuition reimbursement for the weeks where in-person instruction was prohibited.
UNC Charlotte students were asked to vacate residential halls by March 20, and online classes started shortly after that.
“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,” the lawsuit states.
In addition to the tuition reimbursement, Allen is also looking for a refund on some student service fees. These fees cover a variety of non-academic related expenses, including campus transportation, recreational facilities, student organizations, campus entertainment, and more. Allen alleges in the suit that he “no longer has the benefit of the services” and therefore is entitled to a prorated refund.
“I feel like because what we receive is of lesser value than what we thought we were paying for, we’re entitled to reimbursement,” Allen said in a phone call with Queen City Nerve this week.
Online classes at UNC Charlotte are typically cheaper than in-person instruction. The in-state tuition fee for an on-campus undergraduate taking 12 or more credit hours during the Fall 2019 semester was $1,906, whereas the distance education fee for the same amount of credits that semester was $1,548. Online undergraduate students also only paid $272 in non-tuition fees, whereas on-campus, in-state undergrads paid $1,642.
“We have now lost all those things that provide value to the education that we paid for,” Allen said.
College Refund 2020
This suit is a part of a “legal campaign” spearheaded by Willey called College Refund 2020. Willey, who practices at the Anastopoulo Law Firm, has also filed suits against Drexel University, the University of Miami, Columbia University, and Pace University, among others.
The UNC Charlotte Office of Legal Affairs did not immediately respond to request for comment, although Kathleen Nicolaides, director of the UNC Charlotte Legal Studies Minor, stated in an email that the number of college-related class-action complaints were “like dominoes falling.”
“This week has been huge for higher education class-action complaints,” she stated.
Nicolaides discussed the recent lawsuits against the University of California and California State University systems, as well as lawsuits filed — many by Anastopoulo Law Firm — all over the country. She believes it may take some time to see these suits to the end.
“Class-action lawsuits are tough — they require class certification, compliance with specific rules relating to these types of actions and expertise in handling complex cases,” she stated. “My law firm in San Francisco did some work in this area in the antitrust space and that action went on for years and years. They can be very expensive to litigate and require a lot of time and resources.”
Allen, who is currently the only student suing UNC Charlotte, appears to be in it for the long haul. Despite his frustration, he is still proud of his university.
“This isn’t about me; this is about everyone affected who is similar to me,” he said. “I’m actually proud of UNC Charlotte … I’m not against the university in any way. I’m supporting students like myself and I’m supporting financial fairness.”