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April 18, 2020

Drexel student sues for tuition refund following university's abrupt shutdown due to coronavirus

The class action lawsuit is on behalf of more than 13,000 undergraduates at the Philadelphia university

Lawsuits Colleges
Drexel class action suit Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Drexel University student Grainger Rickenbaker is suing the college in federal court to be refunded his tuition and other fees because the school's campus was shutdown due the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Drexel University student is suing the university for a refund of his tuition and other fees because the college abruptly shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Grainger Rickenbaker, 20, and a member of Drexel's ice hockey team, filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and fellow classmates earlier this month, Law360 reported. The suit was filed in federal court in Rickenbaker's home state of South Carolina, and in addition to tuition, it seeks reimbursement for fees going towards school services that he and his fellow students no longer have access to. 

The class action suit was filed along with another by a University of Miami undergrad, Adelaide Dixon. That lawsuit also was filed in South Carolina and Dixon and Rickenbaker are each represented by the same South Carolina law firm.

Tuition for undergraduate students is about $51,930 at the University of Miami and about $54,516 at Drexel. 

Although Drexel is still conducting online classes, the student'slawsuit against the university argues that depriving students of face-to-face interactions with professors, access to campus facilities, as well as activities, athletics, and more justifies a refund in the tuition for the Spring 2020 semester. Activities and athletic fees are often automatically added to college tuition in the form of mandatory fees, which the plaintiffs want back. 

There are about 13,490 undergrads at Drexel, and about 11,117 at the University of Miami. Dixon and Rickenbaker say their class action suits are on behalf of these large student bodies. 

The lawsuits argue that the quality of pass/fail online classes is not the equivalent of the instruction the students would be receiving in-person. 

"The value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished for the rest of the students’ lives," plaintiffs said in their complaints.

Research shows that online learning often costs less than in-person teaching. Tuition for online-only colleges is around $15,000 per year, by comparison to Drexel's more than $50,000. One study of community colleges showed that online classes were less effective at teaching students than in-person classes were. 

Rickenbaker is claiming "breach of contract" and "unjust enrichment," and seeks money for damages, court costs, and attorney fees, all of which are unspecified at this point in the suits.

Drexel University began closing down mid-March, when all facilities shut down and students were asked to leave their on-campus housing. The semester is scheduled to continue until June 13 with online classes. The university has canceled its in-person commencement ceremony for students graduating in Spring 2020.

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