Coronavirus Pandemic Spurs Confusion Over College Refunds

April 23, 2020 8:00:00 AM EDT / by GradGuard

Although schools may provide prorated refunds or credits to students during the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly all schools do not refund tuition or academic fees.


The Coronavirus crisis has upended normal life as we know it. Over the past several weeks, schools nationwide have shifted to online-only instruction. With the change in instruction, comes a lot of questions about refund policies at colleges and universities

In fact, a recent article by U.S. News & World Report demonstrates the question that many students and families are asking their higher education institutions - namely - Why Can't I Get My Money Back?

But much of this confusion regarding refunds in light of COVID-19 is a result of misunderstandings about what defines a real financial loss from a loss in value or quality.  Given this unprecedented situation it is easy to be confused.

GradGuard, an authority on protecting the investment students and families make in higher education, reviewed the websites, statements and published 

survey graphic on covid19refund policies of the largest non-profit colleges and universities in the nation.

The study is ongoing,  but the initial review included 206 schools who serve more than 1.5 million students.   Of this initial sample only 8% have a published statement indicating that they students may be eligible for either some refund or credit to return to the institution. 

Though students and families may be confused, the truth is that the financial loss is not what it may first appear.  In most cases, classes have not been canceled. Instruction has moved online, but course and academic credit is still being earned so there is not an actual financial loss to the student or family.   In addition, because educational credits are still being earned, and the institutions have prior obligations to deliver specific services, which leads to the other finding that most academic and student fees are also not being refunded. 

What GradGuard found was that the vast majority of schools either made no mention on their website about any sort of reimbursements for tuition (74.27%) and student fees (82.5%), or that officials are waiting on further direction from their Board of Regents. It is important to note that the absence of published data does not mean that schools have not provided student-specific guidance or information.


Tuition & Fees: 

  • 19.9% of schools have published they will provide no tuition refunds
  • 8% of schools have published they will provide a prorated refund or credit

Student Housing & Meal Plans:

  • 58.74% of schools provide a prorated refund or credit for student housing
  • 38.5% of schools provide a prorated refund or credit for meals


In short, the confusion over college refunds has also created new awareness of the refund policies of colleges and universities nationwide.  As a result, it will lead to even greater awareness of the real every days risks that face the millions of students and their families who have faith to invest in higher education.

The vast majority of schools made no mention on their website about any sort of reimbursements for tuition.


“We respect the work that university officials have responded quickly to protect the safety of students, staff and their communities from the coronavirus. The effort to implement social distancing policies, shuttering campuses and moving instruction exclusively online has demonstrated strong leadership at campuses of all types,” said John Fees, co-founder of GradGuard. 

GradGuard is deeply aware of the challenges college and universities have in protecting the financial investment of the students they serve.   Our 2019 Benchmark Survey on the Trends & Best Practices in Managing Refunds is a helpful document for schools that seek to reduce the cost of student withdrawals.  

Download College Refund Survey Results


In addition it  is useful to note that, although GradGuard's tuition insurance, like most forms of insurance, excludes pandemics and as a result does not provide coverage for when a student completes a withdrawal due to the pandemic we are still seeing rapid growth in withdrawals due to ordinary student medical conditions.  We will share more on this in future discussions and welcome your feedback at any time. 


Topics: Refund Policy, Transparency, tuition refunds, college risk, college refunds,, cost of college, coronavirus


Written by GradGuard

GradGuard’s mission is to help schools protect the investment in higher education of the students and families they serve. Each student deserves the opportunity to succeed and protect their investment in college. By protecting students and their families from risks from college life, GradGuard helps reduce the cost of college and promote greater student success. GradGuard's modern tuition and renters insurance programs are valuable student benefits available through a network of more than 330 colleges and universities. Since 2009, GradGuard's insurance programs have protected more than 700,000 students and families. For more insights on #collegelife follow @GradGuard

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