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Since Spring 2020, it is estimated that more than 300 lawsuits have been filed by plaintiffs demanding tuition refunds from colleges and universities after operations pivoted from in-person to online. Many of the lawsuits assert that institutions benefitted from a windfall collection of tuition and fees without offering in-person education, and plaintiffs in these cases are seeking a claim of “unjust enrichment.”

NACUBO, other associations, and institutions have explained to the media, policymakers, and others that extraordinary resources spent and expenses incurred to confront the challenges campuses faced—and continue to face—due to the pandemic. (As an example, see NACUBO’s What does college tuition pay for?)

While many cases have been dismissed, some continue to move through the courts.

On August 27, 19 associations including NACUBO filed our first amicus brief, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Rynasko v. NYU), arguing:

To operate in the face of COVID-19, higher education institutions incurred tremendous and unexpected costs, beginning in March 2020 and continuing today. Meanwhile, revenue streams that are critical support for institutional operations—such as income from conferences, hospitals, dining halls, parking, athletic events, concessions, and summer programs—dried up. Far from “an enormous windfall,” COVID-19 stressed tight budgets and exacerbated the financial challenges colleges and universities already faced.

The group, coordinated by the American Council on Education, filed a similar brief for a lawsuit in the DC Circuit and plans to file in the 7th Circuit and 5th Circuit as well.


Liz Clark

Vice President, Policy and Research


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