As schools transitioned to online learning to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the matter of refunds arose as students and families had paid for facilities and programs that would no longer be accessible.
On March 20, Vice President for Administration and Finance, now Interim President, Kenneth Long, sent an email announcing that ESU would be issuing “pro-rated reductions of housing, dining, general, and parking and transportation charges.” The email explained that “refunds will be prorated based on the number of days these services will not be provided […] and is estimated at 50 percent.” Approximately, 2-3 weeks after that email was sent, students began receiving their refunds either through direct deposit or in the mail.
While most students were expecting the refund and received Long’s email explaining what and approximately how much was being refunded, comments of dissatisfaction quickly arose amongst the ESU community. Many students felt that the school had not refunded enough money to the students.
On a survey conducted on from April 13 to 23, a student raised concerns about refunds for clinical or on-site experiences. According to the student, majors that required clinical or on-site experience hours did not receive a refund for the extra money paid towards the hours they were no longer experiencing.
Another student felt more of the general and technology fees should have been refunded as students were now forced to utilize their own equipment, some of which, students had to go out and buy in order to complete their classes. As one student stated: “I lucked out but there are plenty of people who got screwed over.”
Despite a lot of negative responses to the refunds, there was also a lot of comments of understanding and acceptance. One student said: “I believe they gave everyone back the amount that we are not able to use for the remaining of the semester”, while another said “honestly, any sort of refund is something everyone should be grateful for.”
Many students just believe that because they are not getting the type of education, they asked for that all their money should be refunded, which is not the case.
College is expensive and the current situation is a financial burden to all, however, students did attend and receive full in-person studies for half of the semester, so the refund amount of approximately 50 percent is appropriate.
What ESU may have miscalculated though and what is making many students upset with their refund amount, is the small things that one may not always realize is needed to complete their studies.
For example, for many education majors, arts and crafts is a large part of their learning and, while the expectation of completing different projects weekly still remains, suddenly students find themselves forced to buy supplies that were once provided. One would hope that these smaller costs were considered and refunded as a part of the general fees.
Maybe what could have eased many student’s unhappiness in regards to their refunds, is a clear breakdown of what exactly was refunded and how those calculations were decided upon?
The State System of Higher Education released guidance to universities about how to handle refunds. However, ultimately, decision-making rested with the universities.
Each university was required to find the money within their own budgets to cover the refunds.
In a Council of Trustees meeting last week, Long stated that “ESU gave back approximately $8 million in credits and refunds to students” and, in multiple tweets, the school wrote that they were following the guidance from the US and PA departments of education to determine how to refund students appropriately. A majority of students received refunds ranging from $300 to more than $500. So, while students may feel they should have received more money, ESU clearly spent time evaluating what was the most appropriate and actually gave out a lot more money than many individuals may realize.
Ultimately, ESU did not want to close down just as much as most of us students didn’t want to transition to online learning. Just as this is a financial burden and struggle for students, it is a financial struggle for the university too.
In the midst of all of this, students must remember that the university is doing what they can while trying to keep themselves afloat too. There were a lot of factors to consider as well as both the students’ and the whole university’s wellbeing on the line.