Colleges, Universities Reveal Tuition-Refund, Credit Policies

Local parent says USC does not offer tuition refunds or credit because coursework will continue online, but room-and-board plan costs will be reimbursed

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With most college campuses closed and many students returning home, families are searching for details about possible tuition refunds or credits, as well as reimbursement policies connected to campus-housing and food-service costs.

The University of San Diego is offering pro-rated refunds for room-and-board charges, parking-permit fees and its Student Life Pavilion fee, but USD's student government group will not refund the undergraduate student fee. The group instead decided to use that money "to provide support to students with financial needs that are impacted" by the campus closure.

USD administrators are also offering a 60 percent tuition refund for students who withdraw from the university by March 20. The university posted details of its "financial accommodations" for families on its website.

Max Chan, a Canyon Crest Academy graduate now in his first year at the University of Southern California, was forced to return home after the coronavirus outbreak. His father, onetime NBC7 reporter Chris Chan, said that USC is not offering tuition reimbursement or credit toward fall semester instruction because Max and other students are taking their spring classes online.

"It's hard to argue, to say, 'Well, the value is only at 60 or 70 percent,' and ask for that money back, or ask for a discount," Chris Chan said.

But the Chan family is relieved that USC, like USD, will give them a pro-rated discount for Max's unused dorm-room rent and food plan.

At Cal State San Marcos, classes are also continuing online, starting March 20. The university is not offering tuition refunds. Students living on campus have the option to cancel their housing contract, with no penalty, if they choose to move off campus. CSUSM spokesman Eric Breier told NBC 7, however, that campus housing remains open "for residents who would like to stay." CSUSM's website has detailed information about its housing policy, as well as notifications of campus event cancellations and general information about the impact of coronavirus on the San Marcos campus.

In contrast, UCSD administrators are "strongly urging" students to leave the La Jolla campus "as soon as feasible, but no later than March 29." School officials said students who can't return home should have enough dorm space for "effective social distancing." Students who do leave campus by the March 29 deadline will receive a full refund for spring quarter housing costs, said UCSD spokeswoman Leslie Sepuka.

Sepuka said, however, that, "consistent with guidance from the UC office of the president," there will be no tuition or fee reimbursements because "the campus remains operational" with virtual and other alternative learning methods.

Administrators at San Diego State posted detailed information about refunds, credits and class-instruction status on the university's website. An SDSU spokesperson urged students and their families to check its coronavirus information page frequently, "as we are updating it multiple times per day."

Many local families are also hoping for refunds or credits for school trips to the East Coast and around the world that were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Peter Schwarz said the travel company that cancelled a $3,400 East Coast trip planned for his son's 8th grade class is offering a full refund, minus their $250 deposit. He said families also have the option to hold off on the refund, in hopes the trip will be rescheduled.

After talking with other parents, Schwarz decided to decline the offered refund.

"We are hopeful they will continue to offer that refund," Schwarz said. "That was the one thing that was a little vague in their communication. Do we have to take the refund now, and we won't get it later? It's not clear."

At least one family, however, is taking legal action in San Diego against the organizers of a foreign exchange program for U.S. students. In a lawsuit filed March 11, the student is challenging the tour group's alleged refusal to refund the full $3,800 cost of the program. The student's attorneys also want a judge to declare the company's contract unenforceable and "unconscionable." That lawsuit could linger for months, though, since California courts have essentially shut down local courthouses and put civil lawsuits on hold during the pandemic.

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