Coronavirus: U of M under pressure for meagre room and board refunds

There have been calls to protect students from payments during the pandemic.

The University of Minnesota is being asked to refund more of the cost of room and board to students who have moved off campus during the COVID-19 crisis.

A petition launched this week says that students pay more than $5,000 per semester for housing and meal plans, but are receiving only a partial refund of $1,200 for unused housing and food, after the university canceled in-person classes on Mar. 11 due to the pandemic.

The petition is calling for at least $2,500 be refunded to students given that they were told to stay home halfway through the spring semester, and have since encouraged students not to return after spring break.

Leensa Ahmed, who started the petition, says that some students have had to take out loans to pay for their costs.

The students are being backed in their efforts by among others Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), who announced this week he is authoring legislation requiring Minnesota colleges and universities to offer bigger refunds for room and board costs at a time where most are being asked to stay at home.

"It is only fair that students receive refunds for room and board services that they are not receiving. Most of these students have already left campus because of the cancellation of in-person classes at Minnesota colleges and universities,” he said.

"If students aren’t living on campus, there’s no reason why they should be paying anywhere close to full price for room and board for the remainder of the semester. I look forward to working with legislators and university administrators across Minnesota to solve this issue and ensure that students get their money back."

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Under Rep. Garofalo's plan, universities and colleges would be required to refund 90 percent of a student's unused room and board expenses.

The Minnesota Daily reports that University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said the $1,200 figure was based on guidance from "internal and external experts and peer institutions."

She also said the U has to keep funding the halls and dining facilities as some students have elected to stay on campus, and the U needs to continue paying for custodians, maintenance staff, cooks and student workers to keep them functional.

The Star Tribune reports that students at MSU-Mankato will receive half their room and board costs if they've moved out by Apr. 5, while the University of St. Thomas is pro-rating refunds from Mar. 16, when it switched to online classes, with Minnesota State colleges doing the same.

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