ACE, Other Higher Education Associations File Briefs Correcting Tuition Refund Lawsuits’ False “Windfall” Claims
November 17, 2021

​More than 300 tuition refund class action lawsuits have been filed against colleges and universities asserting a false narrative that the onset of COVID-19 in spring 2020 created a financial windfall for schools. In response, over the past several months, ACE and 18 other higher education associations have filed amicus briefs with federal appeals courts in four of the cases so far in an effort to set the record straight on the financial impact of the pandemic on higher education institutions.

In all these cases, the briefs urge the appellant judges to uphold lower court rulings dismissing those lawsuits. We anticipate submitting two more similar amicus briefs next month.

“This putative class action lawsuit—and others like it—alleges that colleges and universities somehow ‘profit[ed] from COVID-19’ and received ‘an enormous windfall,’” states the brief filed Aug. 27 in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit involving New York University. But the brief emphasizes the fallacy of that premise: “Far from ‘an enormous windfall,’ COVID-19 stressed tight budgets and exacerbated the financial challenges colleges and universities already faced.”

The other amicus briefs filed so far are in lawsuits brought against George Washington University, Baylor University, and, most recently, American University.

All four briefs cite a Dec. 2, 2020 letter sent by ACE and other associations to Congress documenting at least $120 billion in additional expenses and lost revenues suffered by institutions due to the pandemic. The efforts made by colleges and universities to protect students and staff and shift to online learning after the pandemic hit in March 2020 were herculean and expensive.

“Schools secured software licenses, trained professors, and transitioned additional services onto the internet, such as student healthcare, library resources, and career services—all in a matter of days,” states the American University brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“They reallocated funds on a dime to permit investment in digital and technology capability upgrades necessary to operate campuses remotely,” that brief continues. “Many institutions offered room and board rebates, and provided financial assistance to students at they travelled home and secured the laptops and other equipment necessary to participate fully in the remaining part of the semester. As a result of these efforts, students were able to complete the remaining weeks of their spring semester courses, and the class of 2020 graduated on time at institutions around the country.”

The briefs note that it is critical for courts to dismiss these lawsuits, which continue to seek to extract multi-million dollar judgments or settlements from colleges and universities.
“The story of COVID-19 on America’s campuses is one of courage and creativity, as administrators and instructors ensured that students safely continued learning in the face of crisis,” all four briefs state. “This is something to celebrate, not penalize.”