higher ed

Echoing the sentiment of 93% of students surveyed who believe college tuition should be reduced if all classes are held online, a coalition led by Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust (Partners) today announced the launch of a consumer protection initiative calling for the adoption of a Tuition Payer Bill of Rights.

“COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college,” said Partners president James Toscano.  “As we saw in the spring when campuses were forced to close, colleges and universities cannot guarantee delivery of the quality of instruction, services and benefits they advertise.  Still, very few are offering tuition discounts or are refunding fees, and in fact, some are actually raising their tuition.” 

Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered, litigation Toscano believes would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed.

“For any other investment the size of college tuition, there are fundamental consumer rights in place to make sure that consumers are fully informed of the cost and benefits of the services for which they are paying, and they have a recourse if these are not delivered,” said Toscano.

In addition to requiring schools to provide advertised benefits or refunds for breach of delivery, the petition calls for five additional rights to which students and their families should be entitled: the right to opt out of paying fees for non-essential services; the right to the option of no-cost online texts and materials; the right to financial transparency by institutions in pricing, billing and spending; the right to know the value of a degree before enrolling; and the right to address college governing boards before decisions are made.

Toscano acknowledged that the predicted drop in enrollment in the Fall will present fiscal challenges for some of the country’s colleges and universities, but many of the deferrals and dropouts, the coalition believes, are financially motivated. 

“With 55% of students reporting that COVID-19 has affected their ability to pay for college and schools scrambling to solidify fall semester plans, students are looking for signs of assurance their investment in higher education will remain a good one,” said Kyle Southern, Policy and Advocacy Director, Higher Education and Workforce for Young Invincibles, an organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of young adults in the political process. “Institutions should listen to students’ concerns and ensure equitable experiences – particularly for first-generation, low-income, and racially and ethnically marginalized students who will be most affected far beyond the current crisis.”

Checklist for Tuition Payers has been created by the coalition to educate and empower students and their families to advocate for consumer protection rights.  

Toscano and Southern were joined in the announcement by UNC Greensboro student Laura Comino whose petition to protest the UNC System’s housing refund policy generated over 40,000 signatures. They and representatives from other supporting organizations are calling on students, parents, alumni and others nationwide to sign a petition that will be presented to institutions and their trustees and associations as part of a collaborative effort to promote adoption of the Tuition Payers Bill of Rights.  

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