Rice University is Facing a Class Action Lawsuit Over Remote-Learning Tuition Prices

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Rice University is Facing a Class Action Lawsuit Over Remote-Learning Tuition Prices
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Rice University is the most recent in a string of several universities facing litigation on behalf of irate students paying full tuition costs for remote learning experiences.

Undergraduate Anna Seballos filed a lawsuit in mid-January of 2020 against the private university in Houston, Texas, alleging breach of conduct for charging remote students full tuition for a learning experience devoid of the culture, in-person courses, and ground learning opportunities promised by the school.

In March of 2020, Rice University closed its in-person facilities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of March 23rd, 2020 learning experiences that were previously held in-person on campus transitioned to online-learning only, and as the pandemic stretched on, remained online for the rest of the semester. Students who had left the campus for break were encouraged not to return, and students remaining on campus were sent home for the duration of the semester. These same safety precautions were instituted at universities around the country.

Many students quickly took issue with the idea of paying the full cost of tuition for their spring semester only to have many of the services, facilities, and learning experiences they paid for become inaccessible. Initially, the university refunded certain prorated expenses to their undergraduates, including room and board charges and rec center fees. However, some students felt that these refunds were insufficient, and that the tuition paid for use of facilities and on-ground learning experiences constituted a breach of contract.

When Rice reopened for its Fall 2020 semester, students were required to sign a “Culture of Care Agreement” prior to the start of classes.

As students prepared to return to campus for the first time since the initial closure of the campus due to coronavirus, they were met with a myriad of new safety precautions and behavior restrictions. This agreement revolves around how the undergraduate students are expected to conduct themselves in regard to COVID safety; students returning to campus in Spring of 2021 were required to sign an updated form of the same agreement. These and other safety precautions, while apparently effective at controlling spread of the virus, did affect the “college experience” many students initially enrolled for.

However, the breach of conduct Seballos is seeking on behalf of herself and other students similarly situated revolves not around Rice’s current restrictions but around the complete closure of the campus in Spring of 2020 and the tuition paid specifically for that spring semester. While some students agree with Seballos that they were overcharged for a remote learning experience, others have expressed displeasure with the lawsuit, pointing out the necessity of paying professors the same wages as they made pre-pandemic. This lawsuit is seeking class action status, and damages exceeding $5 million on behalf of Seballos and other students enrolled in on-ground courses at Rice University in the Spring 2020 semester.

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