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Syracuse University joins list of colleges refunding housing, meal-plan costs

Stephanie Pagones

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Syracuse University, in upstate New York, announced it would be refunding prorated meal-plans and housing costs for students who were ordered to leave campus in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a report and a school announcement.

Syracuse University is crediting undergraduate students’ bursar and meal-plan accounts for the remainder of the school year following its announcement, while those who are graduating will be refunded their credit balances, the university’s website states.

The school asked students to leave campus on March 16 and transitioned to the online model and asked that they collect their belongings by March 22. It warned the prorated refunds, which account for March 23 as the earliest date, could take up to eight weeks to be processed.

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Syracuse.com reported the school had previously announced it would continue the online-learning program through at least the summer.

The university joins a number of other colleges planning to reimburse its students, at least in part.

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Harvard University and Amherst and Smith colleges were quick to announce they would be refunding students for prorated housing and meal-plan costs, according to InsideHigherEd.com.

The University of Minnesota created a "Comprehensive Student Fee Refund Plan" that included pro-rated reimbursement for students on the school's Twin Cities campus "100% prorated credit of their housing and dining fees," effective March 16.

Clemson University announced refunds would be issued to students with Spring 2020 housing and meal plans and who were no longer living on campus as of March 23, 2020.  And the University of Maine provides information on its website about "room and board adjustments and rebates."

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Hundreds of higher education institutions have received federal funding meant to help colleges and students facing financial losses triggered by the pandemic. If the school accepts the funding, they're required to spend at least half on direct grants for students.

But some schools are struggling even with the aid.

At Benedict College, a historically black school in Columbia, S.C., officials expect to lose $2 million in housing refunds out of a $52 million budget. The school announced on April 13 it would be issuing credits for unused housing at a prorated amount that extended from March 19 to the end of the spring semester.

But said Roslyn Clark Artis, president of the school of 2,000 students, said told the Associated Press prior to the announcement that doing so could come at a cost.

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“We have to think clearly about the future of the institution,” Artis said. “The notion of refunding an amount this significant would cripple the institution, there’s no doubt.”

The school, which was already under financial strain, is looking for ways to cut costs and says it will pursue layoffs if needed.

Mississippi’s Millsaps College said it would provide a prorated room and board reimbursement based on a March 15 on-campus-housing suspension date, which accounts for approximately 45.5 percent of the housing costs, according to its website.

The college expects to refund $1 million in housing fees out of $33 million in yearly revenue.

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But not every student was happy with his or her university’s refund offerings.

Last week, a Pace University student sued the school, in part, because she was only refunded a small portion of what she paid in housing and dining costs for the Spring 2020 semester.

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The student said she paid $9,380 in housing costs for the semester, and was unhappy that Pace had issued refunds of “$2,000 for students living on the New York campus and $1,600 for students living on the Pleasantville campus and at Haub Law,” the court papers state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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