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Red Hawk Fellows
Montclair State University. FILE PHOTO

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

On March 12, Montclair’s first presumed COVID-19 case was a 66-year-old Montclair State University employee who was last on campus on Feb. 28. 

The university announced that spring break would be extended until March 23, when students would be allowed back on campus but would resume the semester through virtual learning. 

But then on March 19, university officials announced that the dorms would remain open only to students who are permanent residents and have nowhere else to live.

All classes have been taught online, with the faculty working remotely, since March 6. 

But one student contends he and his fellow students have lost the benefit of the education for which they paid, and/or the services for which their fees paid, and has filed a suit requesting that tuition and fees be refunded to them.

Colin Keyes of Kinnelon filed the suit, on behalf of all MSU students, on April 28 in Superior Court in Newark.

Keyes is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in filmmaking, which relies extensively on in-person instruction, student presentations, peer collaboration, and access to video technology facilities, including filmmaking equipment, according to the suit. 

“None of these resources are available to Mr. Keyes while in-person classes are suspended,” the suit states. 

Keyes paid approximately $6,125 in tuition, a $446 student services fee, a $48 student government association fee, and other fees for use of video technology facilities, of which he has not been provided a refund.

The suit asks that refunds be prorated for a portion of tuition and fees, proportionate to the amount of time that remained in the spring semester when classes moved online and campus services ceased.

Tuition at the university is $6,040 for in-state undergraduates, $10,020 for out-of-state undergraduates, $10,375 for general MBA students, $8,406 for in-state master’s students, and $12,292 for out-of-state master’s students.

Fees paid by students vary based on the program of study. All full-time undergraduate students pay the $446 student services fee, and the $48 student government association fee per semester. Other fees, such as the “special courses/lab fees,” range from $50 to $200 per semester.

“Classes that have continued have only been offered in an online format, with no in-person instruction. Even classes for students with concentrations in areas where in-person instruction is especially crucial (such as filmmaking, music, theater, and the sciences) have only had access to minimum online education options,” the suit states.

Even if the university did not have a choice in cancelling in-person classes, the suit contends the university has improperly retained funds for services it is not providing, and that the students did not choose to attend an online institution of higher learning, but instead chose to attend the institution and enroll on an in-person basis.

It also states that the online learning options being offered to students are “subpar in practically every aspect and a shadow of what they once were, from the lack of facilities, materials, and access to faculty. Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique. The tuition and fees for in-person instruction at Montclair are higher than tuition and fees for other online institutions because such costs cover not just the academic instruction, but encompass an entirely different experience.”

The university charges 20 percent less for an online class. Tuition and fees per credit for an in-person MBA degree at MSU, for example, are $1,044, while an online credit is $866. 

The suit seeks an order of restitution and all other forms of equitable monetary relief, attorney fees and expenses, and costs of suit, and seeks a trial by jury.

Montclair State University officials did not return a request for comment.

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