A recent graduate of Southern New Hampshire University is suing the school, seeking a partial refund on her tuition after in-person classes were cancelled in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, Jumanah Awlia of Seabrook accuses SNHU of failing to return any portion of her previously paid tuition and fees despite the disruption to in-person learning.
The suit is seeking class action status, arguing that the Manchester school’s approximately 3,900 on-campus students, who pay higher tuition than online students, received the same academic service after in-person classes were cancelled March 16.
“The problem is that the students are not getting what they paid for,” said Benjamin King, Awlia’s attorney. “There is no justification for SNHU to hold on to a $15,000 tuition payment for a student who registered to take classes on-campus when that student is receiving the same service that a student who paid $5,000 to attend classes online is receiving.”
Similar lawsuits are popping up around the country as students express frustration at how colleges and universities responded to the pandemic.
In a statement, SNHU said it was still reviewing the lawsuit, but the school defended its handling of the interrupted semester.
“With the emergency shift for campus-based students to online instruction this spring, SNHU added extra layers of support for students and faculty members given the changes and provided a prorated refund to eligible students for room and board expenses,” the school told NHPR.
“Our faculty and staff went above and beyond to help our students finish the semester strong, and worked tirelessly to deliver the best SNHU experience possible given the extraordinary circumstances.”
SNHU is one of the nation’s leading providers of online college classes, reaching approximately 90,000 students nationwide.
Awlia, who graduated this spring with a business degree from SNHU, criticized the school’s online offerings in her lawsuit as inferior to in-person learning.
“The online learning options being offered to SNHU students are subpar in practically every aspect, from the lack of facilities, materials, and access to faculty,” reads the complaint.
“Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique. The remote learning options are in no way the equivalent of the in-person education that plaintiff and the putative class members contracted and paid for.”
In April, SNHU announced that it will not charge tuition to incoming freshmen who live on campus, though those students would still take classes online. The following year, tuition would be set at $10,000 per year, plus room and board costs.