Third student sues American University over tuition and fee refunds

Lawsuit alleges the University failed to provide services that students agreed to by going online

Third student sues American University over tuition and fee refunds

The Mary Graydon Center, pictured in 2016. 

A third American University student filed a class-action lawsuit against the school on Tuesday, seeking refunds for tuition and fees after classes transitioned to online instruction following the outbreak of the coronavirus in March. 

Lawyers for Matthew Rabinowitz, a College of Arts and Sciences senior, filed the lawsuit in the D.C. District Court. Like the other two lawsuits, his court filing alleges that AU failed to provide much of the instruction and on-campus benefits he paid for after classes went online. 

Similarly to the two other lawsuits, Rabinowitz alleges that because he didn’t enter into an agreement regarding online education with the University, he and others who paid spring tuition and fees are entitled to refunds for educational services and related “collegiate experiences.” 

“The fact remains: Regardless of how well AU facilitated the transition to online school, we paid a ton of money, whether it’s through loans, a merit scholarship, or out of our own pocket, for a high-quality private school education,” Rabinowitz said in an interview with The Eagle.

Rabinowitz said that after the transition to online classes, he struggled in two classes in particular, later failing one. Now, he is taking a class at a local community college to make up his final credits to graduate.

He said he was unaware of the previous two lawsuits and only became interested when he saw an ad from Leeds Brown Law for students who wanted to sue their universities for tuition and fee refunds.

His attorneys did not respond to a request for comment. 

Rabinowitz said he was also worried about the job market that he and his peers are graduating into, and he hopes that the refunded money from a successful lawsuit could offset some of these disadvantages. 

The lawsuit says that Rabinowitz paid $24,945 in tuition and fees for promised in-person education for the spring semester, two months of which was spent in online classes following the COVID-19 outbreak. He hopes that the lawsuit will garner wide community support, gaining more plaintiffs and illustrating how students were harmed by the transition. 

AU tuition for the spring 2020 semester costs $24,535 for full-time undergraduate students taking less than 18 credits and is listed on the University website as one of the charges that isn’t eligible for prorated refunds. Other ineligible charges include health insurance, U-Pass, technology, activities, the sports center and course fees.

According to a recent article from MarketWatch, more than 100 lawsuits have been filed by students seeking tuition refunds from their colleges. On May 1, student Maaz Qureshi filed a lawsuit against AU in D.C. District Court, which was followed by a similar lawsuit from student Danish Arif on May 4 in the Southern District of Florida. 

On June 1, The GW Hatchet, George Washington University’s student newspaper, wrote that another lawsuit was filed by GW students against the university’s board of trustees, also seeking tuition refunds. 

Rabinowitz’s lawsuit alleges that AU breached its contract with students by not providing the services associated with in-person education and that the pandemic does not release the University of this obligation. 

Beyond breach of contract, the lawsuit alleges that AU converted ownership of students’ educational services — partially owned by students through tuition payments — causing damage to the student body. It also argues that the University unjustly enriched itself through tuition and fees by not refunding tuition, and used unlawful and deceptive trade practices by representing itself as offering in-person instruction and related services. 

AU spokesperson Stacie Burgess told The Eagle, via email, that the University’s initial statement on tuition-related lawsuits still stands. 

“We are reviewing the litigation. Throughout the COVID-19 situation, we have taken unprecedented steps to support our campus community and deliver our robust, high-quality education to students,” Burgess wrote to The Eagle in May. “During this time, students continued to have access to our expert faculty and the wide range of academic and support services that are the foundation of our educational mission.”

dpapscun@theeagleonline.com 

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