Should You Sue Your College for Delivering Online Learning?

A growing number of students and their families are filing lawsuits against colleges that have canceled live classes and moved instruction online.  The Washington Post reports that the family of one senior is suing George Washington University for a refund, and NBC News reports that more than 20 similar suits have been filed against schools that include Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Drexel, Michigan State, Purdue, and UC Berkeley.

The suits are being filed for a number of reasons. Some suits claim that online instruction is not as good as live instruction – and who could argue with that? Some plaintiffs maintain that colleges and universities promised students a vibrant on-campus experience that is no longer there. And some disappointed students point out that their universities have extremely large endowments; why shouldn’t they give refunds?

From their side of the legal issue, colleges and universities point to the fact that they have worked hard to move classes online and that in many cases the quality of instruction they offer is still quite good.

But Should You Sue Your College?

Should you sue your college, join a class-action suit, or sit back and wait to see what happens? Here are some considerations that could affect your decision.

What Year Are You In?

As we wrote above, one student who is suing George Washington University is now in her senior year there. She and her family seem bitterly disappointed that her expensive college experience is ending up this way, and who could blame her?

But many emotions and expectations come into play, some tied to questions like, “How much of my education have I completed at this school, and what can I look forward to?”

If you are an entering freshman, chances are you are still in love with your college, which only recently accepted you. And if you really like the place, why would you turn around now and file a lawsuit against it? If you are looking forward to classes starting up in the fall (or hoping they will) or looking forward to four years of normal college life, suing for a refund might not be a decision you want to make.

Or if you are midway through your studies, you could be feeling that you still have a few years of instruction that will be held in classrooms, just as it was before the pandemic. How do you feel about those considerations?

How Will the Overall Quality of Your Education Be Affected?

If you are planning to major in art history, French, or English, for example, you might still be able to learn a great deal in your classes, even if a certain percentage of them will be delivered online during your undergraduate years. If on the other hand you are majoring in nursing or another field that requires extensive hands-on learning experiences, the quality of your education could be more seriously impaired.

Because none of us knows how long or how seriously our college studies will be unsettled by the pandemic, these are difficult questions to answer. But trying to answer them objectively could clarify your course of action.

Are There Alternatives to Attending Your College?

Could you take certain courses online, or at other institutions, to compensate for what your college cannot deliver? Can you mix those courses into the program of study at your “main” college? And how could those options affect your overall satisfaction with that institution?

What Value Do You Place on Getting a Degree from Your College or University?

This question requires a bit more thought. If you are attending a prestigious institution, for example, you could conclude that a certain high value is attached to the degrees it grants.

We spoke with one student who said, “I am going to get a degree from an Ivy League institution. In 10 years, do you think anybody is going to care that I took four or five classes online?”

This student might be right about that because degrees from certain institutions carry a high perceived value. But what are your expectations and emotions regarding your college degree? Even if you are not attending an ultra-prestigious institution, graduating from it could still hold great value for you – and why shouldn’t it?

Earning a degree from any college has always been an emotional experience and one that can continue to exert a great influence on your life in the years to come. You should, insofar as possible, be happy with what you learned, and with your degree.

 We Invite You to Explore All Your College and Career Options. . .

Participate in the National Career & College Pathway Study to gain new insights about making educational decisions that align with your interests, passions, and aptitudes. Participants will receive information on college and career opportunities that match their interests.


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