UNC Board Member Says Campuses Should Offer Refunds, Deferrals, Or Lower Tuition

By Kari Travis
Carolina Journal News Service

RALEIGH — UNC Chapel Hill’s move to online-only classes means students should get their money back — with the option to withdraw or defer their enrollment, says one member of the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors.

BOG member Marty Kotis, long outspoken about UNC’s need for better online learning programs, on Monday, Aug. 17, challenged UNC Chapel Hill’s decision to charge students regular tuition and fees for virtual classes. UNC’s flagship school was just one week into its fall semester when the university confirmed at least four outbreaks and 130 cases of COVID-19. With much of the student body living on campus, the risks were too high, the university decided.

It moved fall classes online. Athletes may choose to remain in their campus residences. Practices will go on. Competitions will proceed as usual, the university said. Students with hardships, too, may stay in campus dorms.

But most are expected to move out, the university said.

UNC says it will accept cancellation requests for on-campus housing “without penalty.” Carolina Journal reached out to the campus, asking whether this means students who move off campus will receive a full refund for housing fees. UNC responded with the following.

“Typically, students who cancel their housing contracts after receipt of their room key are charged 50% of the cost of the housing contract. That penalty is waived for fall 2020 residence hall cancellation requests,” the university answered via its media relations email account in an unattributed response.

“More information on refunds will provided to the campus community in the coming days,” UNC Chapel Hill said.

It’s unlikely students will get any refunds for student facilities and activities they’ll no longer be using. It’s also unlikely they’ll see any tuition decreases, though the courses they paid for aren’t the ones they’ll be getting. In July, the BOG passed a resolution to ensure its 17 universities would charge full tuition and fees this year, regardless of changes to class formats. The board’s resolution also prevents UNC’s 17 campuses from issuing refunds.

Kotis was one of six people on the 24-member board who voted against the measure.

No student should be charged tuition and fees for services they aren’t receiving, he said in a Facebook post Monday.

“I didn’t have a say or vote on the UNC Chapel Hill switch to remote instruction,” Kotis wrote. “But as a member of the UNC System BOG, I was vehemently opposed to allowing the schools to charge the same fees as in-person, same tuition, room and board, etc. The online ‘Zoom solution’ is nowhere near the robust world-class online platform I’ve been pushing for during the last seven years.”

“They’ve been open one week,” he said of Chapel Hill. “So if it were up to me, I’d give students the option of [a] 100% refund and withdrawal/deferment, or reduced tuition and minimal fees with distance learning.”

Kotis is all for online learning, he told CJ during a Tuesday phone call. But to charge regular tuition, virtual classes should be well developed. UNC campuses spent the summer improving the online courses that were taught over Zoom during the spring semester, but “We’re not there yet,” he said.

UNC also shouldn’t charge regular fees to out-of-state students who are doing online coursework, he said, even if the classes are high quality.

In July, CJ spoke with a handful of UNC students on other campuses. They worried about costs. They were frustrated about paying for parking passes, health facilities, and myriad services they’re not guaranteed to receive.

Kelly VonEnde is an out-of-state student at UNC Charlotte. She’s required to be on campus for just one of her five classes this fall. Her fall semester bill totals $10,265.

“Now you’ve already billed me for these services, but I’m not sure I’m gonna get those services,” VonEnde told CJ. “It’s extraordinarily frustrating, because, as an out-of-state student, I have to pay extra rent to live in Charlotte.

“I was expecting a different product when I agreed to pay this money,” she said.

As of Tuesday, Aug. 18, UNC Charlotte reported just four COVID-19 cases on campus.

No other universities are now planning to move to an online-only format, UNC System President Peter Hans said in an emailed statement Monday.

“Each campus is different, and I expect situations to evolve differently,” Hans said. “In any circumstance, we will be grounded by reliable public health data and prevailing local health conditions. I will continue to stay in close contact with our chancellors and fully support their efforts to fulfill our core educational mission in safe learning environments.”