The Collegian
Sunday, July 12, 2020

Students respond to refund policy

<p>The University of Richmond Forum during the summer of 2019.</p>

The University of Richmond Forum during the summer of 2019.

Students reacted to the University of Richmond's decision to issue prorated refunds for housing and meal plan costs following the shift to remote instruction for the remainder of the spring semester.

Laurie Melville, senior associate vice president for finance and controller, explained the way refunds were calculated in an email to The Collegian.

"The housing and meal plan credits were computed in two parts — the first part calculated the actual full credit amount and the second part was an adjustment to reflect the proportion of billed tuition, room and board costs covered by University-funded scholarships and grants," Melville wrote. "The first part of the calculation, the 43.75% credit factor, was determined based on the University’s 16-week Spring housing calendar."

Students were unable to return to campus the week of March 15, meaning seven of the 16 weeks included in the semester’s housing and meal plans were unable to be used, Melville wrote.

Senior Michael Bonifonte said the 43.75% credit was explained well in an email about the policy sent to the student body on March 26 by David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer. 

"It made sense to me that that percentage would be taken on the portion of housing and dining I paid — not on the total cost, as some of that is covered by scholarships [and] grants," Bonifonte said.

Melville said that the second part of the calculation took into consideration UR-funded proportions of billed tuition, room and board costs.

"To understand the adjustment, it is helpful to understand first how scholarships and grants are applied to student accounts," she wrote. "A student who has merit or need-based aid has that aid applied to the balance on their account, not specific line items. This means that each item of aid received is allocated proportionately across all charges, such as tuition, housing and meal plans, that make up the balance. 

"Cash payments are similarly applied and allocated. As a result, credits or refunds must also be calculated and allocated proportionately, or on a 'pro-rata basis,' among those categories."

This approach was also applied for students who have who have sliding aid equivalent to the cost of tuition, such as Richmond Scholars, Melville wrote.

Melville emphasized that UR officials had been concerned that students receiving substantial UR-funded grants and scholarships would have had needs in excess of the amounts credited to them, which explained the minimum housing credit amount of $330. 

"All students living in University housing should have received a minimum credit of $330," she wrote. "The amount actually refunded may have been lower if the student had unpaid charges on their bill, such as parking tickets."

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Additionally, all students who had meal plans that included dining dollars were credited for the full value of their unused dining dollars, and students who had active jobs and earned wages in the spring semester were credited a one-time payment to help students close the financial gap caused by a lack of income, Melville wrote. 

Sophomore Claire McLam said she was excited to see that the school was taking students' losses into account because college was a steep expense for a lot of people and, especially during a crisis like this, every penny counted. 

However, McLam still wondered if a portion of tuition should be refunded.

"We pay an exorbitant amount of money to have access to an amazing set of resources and faculty and utilities, but the switch to online learning has made many of those resources and opportunities unavailable," McLam said. "Room and board should not have been the only thing refunded, in my opinion. Obviously [a] full tuition refund would be unrealistic and detrimental to the school, and we are still receiving some benefits from the university, but I’m just not sure that the payment is proportional to what was lost."

Additionally, McLam would like to know how much the switch to online learning is costing UR and what kinds of resources are being provided to students so they know the money UR is holding onto will be going to the right places, she said. 

Bonifonte said he thought the policy was clear and fair to students.

"Students will still receive credit for any courses taken this semester, so there is no reason to refund tuition," he said. "And it is fair to only refund the cost of housing and dining missed, not the entire semester's cost."

Hale wrote in an email to the student body on March 26 that refunds would be issued in the student’s name no later than April 3. Students with direct deposit would receive a confirmation email from UR's Accounts Payable department, and students not enrolled in direct deposit would receive checks mailed to their off-campus address, Hale wrote. 

Contact news writer Morgan Howland at morgan.howland@richmond.edu.

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