Some students may see housing fee refunds, but few others expected

Now that PNW classes have moved online, some students are wondering if the university should reduce either tuition or fees.

Some universities have announced they will refund a portion of student fees. Others are considering such refunds. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced last week that it will return $37 million in room and board fees to students who left the campus early because of COVID-19. The school indicated that further refunds may be possible. 

PNW has decided to give housing refunds to students who have moved out of the dorms, but will not refund for other fees.

“Purdue Northwest is operating remotely, but students can still get the help you need and instruction is being delivered through the spring semester and summer sessions,” said Kris Falzone, associate vice chancellor for marketing and communications. “PNW is providing quality education through virtual classes, virtual labs and VPN access to labs, and a full range of student services – from registering for classes to academic advising to remote counseling sessions. For all these reasons, the university will not be returning lab fees or other student fees.”

PNW is one of about 300 schools nationwide to transition to online schooling for the remainder of the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most students have been sent home from campus housing and only a few resources, such as specific computer labs, remain open for those who need them.

“I think we should be prorated [since] we don’t have access to certain computer labs, printers and rooms that are inaccessible to students,” said senior Aaron Greichunos. “I need to use a certain program for a lab and it’s not supported by a MacBook, which is what I have. So, I’m inconvenienced due to them closing those labs.”

Many students feel the same. Some are concerned they are not getting the education or social experience they are paying for.

On-campus fees, such as room and board, lab fees and meal plans, reflect a full semester of use. Some fees, like lab fees and meal plans, are charged even to commuters who use the facilities.

Based on data from PNW’s website these fees can add up to over $4,000 per semester for students paying room and board and over $500 for commuter students. These amounts do not include fees specific to programs or colleges, which can add another $280 to the total cost.

“They offered us a $400 credit if we moved out of the dorms now, but I don’t think that’s worth the stress of moving, especially with a pandemic going on,” said junior Madison Dornack, a resident in PNW housing. “It doesn’t make up for the costs. For my building, they have told us to stay in our rooms because someone was exposed, but they weren’t, and staff had to send an apology telling us we were free to leave again.

“I was also asked to move into a different dorm for social distancing and had to file a form in order to stay,” Dornak said. “I definitely think they should be giving out refunds because they’re making this a really stressful process for students.”

While universities have discussed the possibility of refunds, decisions can be complicated. Studies estimate that more than two thirds of college students take out loans to cover their school costs and many others receive scholarships to cover at least some costs. If colleges were to refund some costs, the schools risk losing thousands of dollars while students would be able to pocket the money.

Some students do not expect refunds.

 “I don’t think it’s fair to the university to give out refunds,” said junior Julian Ramirez. “The college didn’t have control of what happened, and they are still trying their best to give us a good education. It’s also unfair to staff like janitors and maintenance crews who may be out of work or taking pay cuts because of this. I think refunds could cause a divide in the campus community and at a time like this we need to come together more.”