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USF students didn’t get what they paid for, lawsuit says

A USF student goes to federal court asking for tuition and fee refunds for services he never got because of the coronavirus shutdown.
A recently filed lawsuit alleges the University of South Florida did not offer the in-person benefits advertised to students when they signed up for classes. The action in federal court in Tampa seeks refunds of tuition and fees.
A recently filed lawsuit alleges the University of South Florida did not offer the in-person benefits advertised to students when they signed up for classes. The action in federal court in Tampa seeks refunds of tuition and fees.
Published Aug. 13, 2020

A University of South Florida student is suing the university and the State University System, seeking a refund on tuition and fees after classes moved online due the coronavirus in the spring.

Jeffrey Brown, an attorney representing student Jarrett LaFleur, said USF charging the same rate of tuition and fees for online education amounts to a breach of contract. The school did not offer the in-person benefits advertised to students when they signed up, he said, adding USF was unjustly enriched.

Related: USF won’t refund housing costs if virus causes campuses to close again

The lawsuit was filed July 21 in federal court in Tampa. A similar case was filed by a University of Florida student in May.

The lawsuit states that the average tuition paid by a full-time, in-state undergraduate student at a Florida state university was between $2,375.64 and $2,969.55 per semester.

At USF, according to his lawsuit, LaFleur paid $2,059.72 for four classes in the spring and $1,300.00 over the summer, including distance learning fees, a flat fee for athletics, an undergraduate local fee, and a technology fee. The university charged a distance learning fee of $26.79 per credit hour for the Tampa campus, $9.67 per credit hour for the St. Petersburg campus and $15.92 per credit hour for the Sarasota-Manatee campus. The fee is assessed only on classes that can be accessed at any time.

LaFleur, who was involved in intramural sports, a fraternity and engineering societies, was unable to access the benefits of an in-person education, Brown said, and should be refunded accordingly.

Brown said he understands the pandemic was an unprecedented circumstance, but compares the situation to refunds issued for airline flights that are cancelled due to bad weather.

“When they can’t offer that same service, for no fault of their own, the benefit of that bargain shouldn’t go to the university,” Brown said.

The lawsuit points out that the University of Florida charges less for degrees that are offered online-only. The same, the case contends, should be true when the semester is virtual.

State University System spokeswoman Renee’ Fargason and USF spokeswoman Althea Paul each said they could not comment on pending litigation.

USF spokesman Adam Freeman previously stated that more on-campus operations will resume during the fall semester and the school’s contingency plans will allow students to “continue taking courses and accessing services remotely to keep them on a path to timely graduation without providing refunds.”

He also said the campuses never closed and that many services, including the bus system funded by student transportation fees, continued to operate.