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Sophomore sues Princeton for spring 2020 tuition refund

Princeton is the latest university in a string of schools, including the entire Ivy League, facing lawsuits over tuition prices during the pandemic.

<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

Reid Zlotky ’23 is suing the University in federal court, arguing the institution unfairly charged full tuition for virtual instruction in the spring 2020 semester.

Princeton is the latest in a string of higher education institutions facing lawsuits over tuition prices during the pandemic. With Zlotky’s complaint, tuition reimbursement lawsuits have now been filed against all eight Ivy League schools.

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Zlotky’s suit, which was filed Nov. 19 as a class action on behalf of all students who paid tuition or fees for the spring and subsequent semesters, argues that students should not have paid the full $25,935 semester tuition after being sent home in March.

“While Princeton has used the current COVID-19 shutdown circumstances to excuse its duty … Princeton continues to demand that all students perform their contractual bargain to pay all tuition and fees for the spring 2020 term,” Zlotky’s complaint alleges.

Zlotky declined to comment on his lawsuit.

Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss said the University is aware of the lawsuit, but had not been served formally with a copy of Zlotky’s complaint.

Hotchkiss characterized the suit as “misguided and without merit” in an email to The Daily Princetonian, adding that the University plans to “mount a vigorous defense.”

“We look forward to prosecuting our legal claims set forth in the Class Action Complaint, which was filed in federal court and is being served on Princeton,” Zlotky’s attorney, Charles Kocher of McOmber McOber & Luber, wrote in an email statement to the ‘Prince.’

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In his complaint, Zlotky acknowledged that the decision to adopt a remote learning system followed health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Still, he argued the University is retaining students’ tuition despite not providing services and facilities he says were agreed upon in the tuition contract.

“These fees and tuition costs easily amount to thousands of dollars per student,” Zlotky alleged in his complaint. 

Last spring, the University sent students home and taught its classes entirely online for the remainder of the semester. Many universities followed suit, with some in-person instruction but mostly remote classes.

“The transition enabled our students to continue learning and complete the spring semester safely,” Hotchkiss said.

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He added that the University invested resources to sustain the quality of instruction that students deserve and expect.

“In addition, Princeton refunded room, board, and residential college fee charges for the remainder of the semester for students who left the campus in March,” Hotchkiss said.

The University did not, however, refund tuition, which Dean of the College Jill Dolan previously justified by noting that students still completed their coursework and received credits.

“We plan to ensure that online instruction continues through the end of the semester, so that students can complete their coursework and receive their course credit,” Dolan wrote in a March 14 email to parents. “In that case, tuition will not be refunded.”

Provost Deborah Prentice elaborated, explaining in a Council of the Princeton University Community meeting on March 30 that online classes “retain the rigor and the coverage of the material.”

“What hasn’t changed is our commitment to providing high quality instruction,” Prentice said.

The case, Zlotky v. Trustees of Princeton University, is pending in New Jersey federal court.

Associate News Editor Albert Jiang contributed reporting.

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