Students and graduates of Miami University can be proud that our school is recognized nationally as a “Public Ivy” and a top 50 national public university. The education, resources, campus life and our college town of Oxford are among the best in the nation. It’s because of these factors that I, like so many others, decided to attend Miami.
However, our student experience was deeply diminished in the spring of 2020 when the COVID pandemic caused a hastily-implemented pivot to an exclusively-virtual learning environment. While I, of course, understand the need for our school to take precautions and put safety first, the result simply was not what we bargained for when we decided to attend — and pay for — college at Miami University.
According to the university's promotional materials, it has a long-standing commitment to the tradition of a vibrant on-campus, community environment. The main page of their website is unambiguous in its assertion that their value is found in their in-person classes and campus life, stating, "You Will Thrive. A breathtaking campus. An ideal learning environment. Immerse yourself in a community that values community." To further underscore its value when providing information regarding tuition and fees, they say that "Miami is committed to providing the greatest return on families' educational investment."
The university clearly distinguishes between its in-person undergraduate classes and its online classes in its enrollment documents and agreements. In fact, when I and my fellow classmates paid tuition and fees and registered for Spring 2020, classes were listed as “face-to-face,” as opposed to “online” or “hybrid.”
So, when we paid for that semester, there was the common sense and tacit understanding that we would receive on-campus services and in-person classes, as students have almost every year since Miami University was founded in 1809.
No one should be faulting the school for switching to online classes, but it is fundamentally unfair that we paid for in-person instruction, access to facilities and services that we did not get.
Now, more than two years later, the university has still not provided impacted students any refund whatsoever for tuition. As an in-state student, I paid more than $9,400 in tuition and fees to attend in-person classes during the 2020 Spring semester. For my classmates from other states, that amount was nearly twice as much.
In response, I am a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit on behalf of my classmates seeking a reasonable refund for the difference in tuition and fees we paid for in-person educational experiences versus less valuable online courses.
Miami University and the Office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost have the ability to rectify this injustice, and our hope is that they will take part in a good faith conversation with us about our case.
Many students went into debt to pay for the in-person classes and could have paid less or taken out smaller loans for less valuable online courses. Attorney General Yost has said he does not support widespread loan forgiveness, but instead favors tailored solutions that make sense for those in need. Not only does our case fit that bill for those who relied on loans, but it is a matter of fairness for all affected students.
The foundations for Miami University were first laid by an Act of Congress signed by President George Washington. It is appropriate then to recall his sage words: "Truth will ultimately prevail where there are pains to bring it to light."
We hope that bringing attention to this matter will encourage Attorney General Yost and the university to act in the interest of fairness for Ohio students.
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Sarah Baumgartner is a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit vs. Miami University.