A College-Student Bill of Rights

by James A. Bacon

College students should be reimbursed if they don’t receive the full benefits they pay for in tuition, fees, room, and board, declares the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.

“COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college,” said Partners president James Toscano in a statement launching the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights.  “As we saw in the spring when campuses were forced to close, colleges and universities cannot guarantee delivery of the quality of instruction, services and benefits they advertise. Still, very few are offering tuition discounts or are refunding fees, and in fact, some are actually raising their tuition.”

Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered. Toscano believes the litigation would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed. “For any other investment the size of college tuition, there are fundamental consumer rights in place to make sure that consumers are fully informed of the cost and benefits of the services for which they are paying, and they have a recourse if these are not delivered.”

The situation in Virginia is in flux as public and private universities receive an influx of college students for the new academic year. Higher-ed institutions are adopting an array of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including frequent testing, contact tracing, and social distancing. Athletic events are being canceled. More classes are being taught online. While the policy mix varies from institution to institution, campus life will not be the same, and in many cases neither will the learning experience.

Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered, litigation Toscano believes would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed.

“With 55% of students reporting that COVID-19 has affected their ability to pay for college and schools scrambling to solidify fall semester plans, students are looking for signs of assurance their investment in higher education will remain a good one,” said Kyle Southern, Policy and Advocacy Director, Higher Education and Workforce for Young Invincibles, which backs the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights. “Institutions should listen to students’ concerns and ensure equitable experiences – particularly for first-generation, low-income, and racially and ethnically marginalized students who will be most affected far beyond the current crisis.”

The Tuition Payer Bill of Rights has six main tenets:

  • Right to advertised benefits and refunds. The right to receive the full benefits owed to students through payment of tuition, fees, room and board and to be refunded for services not rendered.
  • Right to opt out of non-essential services. The right to op-out of paying fees levied for collegiate athletics, recreation and other non-essential services.
  • Right to no-cost alternatives to textbooks. The right to be given the option of no-cost online texts and materials.
  • Right to financial transparency. The right to a clear and detailed explanation of anticipated costs and those incurred to earn a college education: of financial aid and payment obligations; and of billing and how colleges spend money.
  • Right to know the value of a degree. The right to be informed of the earnings premium that former students earn beyond the typical high school graduate before enrolling in an institution of higher education.
  • Right to speak. The right to address college governing and advisory boards in a public comment period during open board meetings before decisions are made.

Bacon’s bottom line. Some of these proposals are familiar. Partners has brilliantly repackaged them in the form of a bill of rights. What adds umph to the initiative is the new insistence upon students’ rights to refunds. If students don’t get the kind of education they contracted for, if they’re charged fees for athletic events that never happen, if they don’t get the dormitory accommodations promised, they should get some or all of their money back. Who can argue with that? Are colleges going to insist that they have the right to cheat their customers? They can’t. It would be political dynamite.

Driven by their internal constituencies, Virginia’s colleges and universities are consumed with identity politics. But that fixation will run head-long into marketplace realities. Institutions had better get their priorities straight. If they’re interested in “social justice,” they can start by ensuring that all students — especially low-income minority students — get their money’s worth for their tuition and fees.

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15 responses to “A College-Student Bill of Rights

  1. “If they’re interested in “social justice,” they can start by ensuring that all students — especially low-income minority students — get their money’s worth for their tuition and fees.”

    No, wrong! That sentence should read:
    “If they’re interested in “social justice,” they can start by ensuring that ALL students get their money’s worth for their tuition and fees.”

    Let’s stop our political correctness bunk talk.

  2. A college education is a privilege not a right so a “tuition payer bill of rights” is nonsensical.

  3. Students (or whoever is paying tuition) are consumers. Just like people who use credit cards are consumers. Why shouldn’t there be tight consumer protection for students just like there is for borrowers? Where is Elizabeth Warren on this matter?

  4. I offer three more:
    – freedom of expression;
    – freedom of academic inquiry; and
    – freedom from mandatory social justice/ equity / critical theory training

  5. Full transparently of all costs and expenses of providing for the education that the American student bargained for – where that student’s (and parents’) money goes, and for what, and how it is directly related to that students education should be fully explained to the student, with full transparency demanded as public policy. All of of this critically important information is now hidden from the student and from the public, in many opaque layers of deception and misinformation.


    Because much of most students’ tuition is not spent on educating those students paying the tuition, particularly those in the undergraduate schools of arts and sciences, and much of their tuition funds are siphoned away from their courses of study and used elsewhere for purposes that do not benefit the student and his education at all. This is the dirty big secret that American colleges and universities have been hiding for decades, the secret that plays such an important part in the sky high escalation of the students costs over decades of attending many colleges and universities today. This is national scandal. These institutions have been hiding facts in variety of clever and deceptive ways and practices, starting with deceptive accounting.

    I believe new rules, cleaning up and out, these deceptive practices need to be demanded. Ones that force transparency onto all institutions of higher education, whether they be public or private, profit or non profit, institutions. Why is the quality of information demanded for the sale of a bond placed at a far higher standard than the information required for sale of one’s education?

    Here, is there not created a contractual obligation between the buyer (student) and the seller (university,) one where full transparency should be demanded and enforced? One where intentional misrepresentation, misinformation or fraud, should be outlawed and punished with damages awarded.

    Is this not a simple matter of consumer protection?

    Here, with the education of a human being at stake, is this not a violation of fiduciary duty? Particularly so, given the abysmal nature of an institution that defrauds a student of his or her education that they paid for, losses that will impact that student for the rest of his or her life?

    If there was ever a cause of social justice, it would be fixing this defrauding of students by American colleges and universities that is rampant today.

    • sherlockj | August 13, 2020 at 1:03 pm | Reply

      I offer three more:
      – freedom of expression;
      – freedom of academic inquiry; and
      – freedom from mandatory social justice/ equity / critical theory training

      WayneS | August 13, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Reply

      “They already have the first two. The third is not a right.”

      Reed Fawell 3rd | August 13, 2020| Reply

      No, WayesS.

      American students increasingly don’t have the first two either. Many students today don’t have at many American institutions of higher education:

      – freedom of expression;
      – freedom of academic inquiry;

      Nor do many students in growing numbers have:

      – freedom from mandatory social justice/ equity / critical theory training.

      Political indoctrination has replaced education at many colleges and universities, and the number of those institutions that consider indoctrination to be their primary task is growing like wild fire across America.

      • I said they have the rights – I did not say they are not being infringed.

        Acknowledgement of the existence of the first two rights on sherlockj’s list, and a promise that these rights will not be infringed, is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution under the 1st Amendment.

        And if the U.S. Constitution does not prevent colleges and universities from infringing on these rights then a “student bill of rights” certainly isn’t going to do the job.

        • Well, I think you can find SCOTUS has ruled concerning limitations on virtually all rights, and student rights and the rights of the universities, specifically.

      • Ooooh, worth repeating… and cleaning up.

        He meant freedom from learning.

        Indoctrination is not the subject matter to which you are exposed, it’s the subject matter to which you are not exposed.

        Nevertheless, when someone can claim expertise in education, healthcare, and state constitutional law while having never studied nor worked in those fields, then does it matter?

  6. The right to not have halls and buildings named after corporate donors, the right not to have on-campus Starbucks and “endless ice cream machines”, the right to not have money wasted on the NCAA….

  7. “Good afternoon. This class is Mathematics 201, an introduction to The Calculus, so if you’re not registered… well, see you later. Now, because of some last minute changes instituted by the school after publication of the selected texts, we need to make some editorial changes. Whenever you see the word “Theorem”, change it to “Opinion”.

  8. Well, that was fun. A bunch of Right Wing Weenies demanding a guarantee in life.

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