IOWA CITY — Iowa’s public universities on Monday announced they’ll provide some refunds for students affected by this semester’s unprecedented midterm move online amid the COVID-19 outbreak — including those forced to abandon housing contracts and meal plans in the residence halls.
But they won’t refund tuition and mandatory fees — according to a UI message to students Monday that reminded them revenue is necessary to cover its “ongoing operations, including retaining the faculty and staff needed to provide virtual instruction and online student support services.”
“We know this is not what you signed up for at the start of the semester,” according to the UI message to students. “The decision to move to virtual instruction was not one we made easily, but it was determined that proactive steps were necessary to maintain the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff.”
The refunds that are taking place look different on each campus — after all three of Iowa’s public universities earlier this month canceled in-person classes for the rest of the semester and moved instruction online. The universities initially planned to keep their respective residence halls and dining facilities open, but then changed course as Iowa’s COVID-19 caseload continued to climb.
All three have agreed to make exceptions for special requests, like international students who have no place to go and no way to return home amid the outbreak.
The UI message Monday told families each student’s remaining room and meal plan charges will be credited back to his or her U-bill no later than May 1. The credit, according to the message from University Housing and Dining Senior Director Von Stange, will be equal to nearly 49 percent of semester room charges and the same percentage of “gold, black, or Hawkeye meal plan” semester charges. The gold plan — the most expensive at $1,890 per semester — includes unlimited meals in the marketplaces and other benefits. The black plan costs $1,705 per semester and includes 145 meals at specific residence halls. And the Hawkeye meal plan costs $735 and is only for students living in an on-campus room with a kitchen or off-campus students.
That UI refund calculation, according to Stange, was based on 119 “contract nights in the spring semester, of which 58 remained when the residence halls and dining facilities closed.”
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Similarly, UI students who bought meal plans but live off campus will receive the nearly 49 percent credit for the lost days — although those off-campus students who want to continue using their meal plan in a limited capacity in the remaining open locations can ask to do so by April 6.
Herky Booster Packs — for students who used up their other meal plans — won’t be refunded, although they can continue to be used through May 2021. And all “Hawkeye Dollars” — the $100 made available with room contracts each semester — will remain in student accounts and can continue to be used until they graduate.
UI administrators also will refund recreation fees and arts and cultural events fees through the end of the semester.
Iowa State on Monday announced it is refunding 40 percent of residence hall contracts, as well as course fees, for the spring semester. Dining refunds will be based on a “prorated share of the remaining contracts,” and its “dining dollars” will be refunded in full on remaining balances.
Iowa State Parking, additionally, will provide prorated refunds for student parking permits — once it receives those permits back from students.
As for the hundreds of students affected by study abroad cancellations, Iowa State is processing refunds — and the University of Iowa, in bringing back its hundreds of students abroad, committed to helping with ticket change fees up to $500 if all other efforts with the various programs and airlines fail.
In a Monday message from ISU President Wendy Wintersteen, she said her campus too will not be refunding tuition and mandatory fees for the spring semester.
“While the transition to virtual instruction represents a significant change, both for you, and for our faculty, we are committed to offering a high-quality educational experience, and maintaining similar levels of academic rigor regardless of how your courses are delivered,” Wintersteen wrote. “Courses taught virtually continue to fully count toward your degree program.”
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Considering the “unparalleled challenge” COVID-19 has and continues to represent for the university’s students, families, faculty, and staff, Wintersteen said, “We have strived to be fair in determining these refunds, and we appreciate your understanding as these complex decisions are made.”
UNI, like its sister schools, is refunding housing and meal plans — along with some fees.
In a statement, UNI President Mark Nook said, “We miss having our students on campus, and are doing everything we can to make sure they progress to the end of the semester.”
“As we continue through these unprecedented times, we are grateful for our students’ patience and their continued efforts to keep themselves and their communities safe.”
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