Kansas lawmakers press proposal to mandate tuition refunds

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • Kansas state lawmakers continue to promote a proposal that would require public colleges to return students’ tuition money for instructional days that were canceled or made virtual due to the pandemic.
  • The Kansas Board of Regents estimates the reimbursements would cost more than $150 million, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
  • Students and families nationwide sued for tuition refunds after classes shifted online by necessity last spring, arguing they didn’t receive the college experience they paid for.

Dive Insight:

Kansas lawmakers

A flurry of lawsuits seeking tuition reimbursements followed the pandemic’s start in the U.S. None of the cases have succeeded thus far. However, a federal judge in December allowed one against a private institution in New York to go forward.

However, the legislative proposal in Kansas is seemingly unique — no other statehouses have pursued mandatory tuition refunds.

According to media reports, language added to the state’s proposed higher education budget last month would force Kansas’ public colleges and universities to refund tuition fully for class days that they canceled because of the pandemic. Institutions would need to refund half of the tuition money for class sessions that went online.

The Republican lawmaker who introduced the measure claimed students aren’t learning well in online classes. He pointed to the latest round of $40 billion in federal relief money as one of the reasons colleges should pay up, the Capital-Journal reported. According to media reports, Kansas’ governor intends to cut state higher ed funding by $37.4 million.

Refunding tuition for class days that colleges scrapped or converted to virtual formats would further strain their budgets, said Chris Marsicano, founding director of the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, tracking institutional responses to the pandemic.  However, institutions market themselves as offering students a high-quality and wide-ranging experience, Marsicano said.  “It is easy to see why students and families want refunds when that experience falls short,” he said.   A spokesperson for the Kansas regent board did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

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