Solena Aguilar | Mustang News

Students from California universities are demanding refunds for mandatory student fees in a class-action lawsuit filed Monday, after campuses across the country shifted to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuit was filed by Sonoma State University student Akayla Miller in Los Angeles and Oakland federal courts and alleged that UC and CSU universities owe millions of dollars to more than 700,000 students who can no longer utilize several services that are funded by campus fees.

“CSU’s decision to transition to online classes and to instruct students to leave campus were responsible decisions to make, but it is unfair and unlawful for CSU to retain fees and costs and to pass the losses on to the students and/or their families,” the lawsuit reads. “CSU is, in essence, profiting from this pandemic.”

In addition, more than 44,000 have signed a petition launched by UCLA student Michaella Baltazar asking for refunds. 

Campus fees range from $847 to $4,201 for CSU students for the 2019-2020 academic year and from $1,100 to more than $3,000 for UC students.

Fees for Cal Poly students are more than $986 each quarter.

Some of these fees include the health service fee, ASI fee, University Union fee, student success fee, and commencement fee.

However, many of these services can no longer be utilized by students, as the University Union closed and commencement has been postponed, with no word on if a ceremony will be held in the future.

CSU said they are refunding some fees, as outlined in an interim policy from March 19. The details of these fees have not been announced. 

Tuition and mandatory fees are to be refunded if the campus “makes a determination that the tuition and mandatory fees have not been earned by the university,” according to provisions of Title 5 in the document. 

Campus refund policies typically provide for a refund of local campus fees such as housing and parking, according to the document.

Because campuses continue “to provide academic credit for courses taken and delivered by means, therefore refunds of tuition and other campus mandatory fees are not warranted,” Section B of the statement reads.

Section B also states “tuition and other campus mandatory fees will not be refunded except as provided for by campus refund policies and procedures consistent with Title 5.”

In regards to financial aid, refunds that alter cost of attendance or affect student financial aid packages must be processed according to state and federal financial aid regulations, Section C reads.

When contacted for a statement by Mustang News, the CSU Chancellor’s Office claimed that there were many misstatements and will vigorously defend against this suit.

“The case against CSU asserts that students should be given refunds after CSU allegedly stopped providing services to them,” CSU Chancellor’s Office Senior Director of Public Affairs Mike Uhlenkamp said in a statement.

While classes were converted to an online format after Gov. Newsom’s stay-at-home order, every CSU continued to fulfill its mission of providing instruction and services to its students, he said.

“Campuses continue to operate, and many personal services are now provided remotely, such as counseling, advising, faculty office hours, disability student services, and even telehealth medical care,” Uhlenkamp said.

University Spokesperson Matt Lazier said that mandatory fees are required of all students in part to help pay for long-term debt obligations, such as the University Union Fee, which pays for the Recreation Center loan that allowed the facility to be upgraded and expanded.

The UC system announced it will not refund tuition or mandatory fees for 2020-2021.

In a letter to Gov. Newsom, UC System President Janet Napolitano outlined that the UC is providing prorated refunds on housing and dining services and notes that the UC system has already lost hundreds of millions in housing and dining revenue.

On top of this, the UC system plans to potentially increase tuition by fall 2020 for California residents by $606, a 4.8 percent increase, in a new model called cohort tuition.

The UC system just learned of this complaint and had no comment when asked by Mustang News.

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