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Dartmouth parent sues over tuition rate for online classes

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/1/2020 9:50:28 PM
Modified: 6/1/2020 10:05:54 PM

CONCORD — The father of a Dartmouth College student is asking a federal court to refund part of his son’s tuition, saying the Ivy League school’s switch to online learning provides a “less valuable experience.”

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Concord, Florida resident Orlando Alfred says Dartmouth no longer offers many of the on-campus services it touts online and in marketing materials. Without in-person clubs, outdoor excursions or the ability to interface with professors, students should be charged less, he argues.

“Dartmouth does not merely sell credit hours and diplomas as one would sell widgets,” the lawsuit says. “It sells an experience — one enriched both personally and academically through hands-on experiential learning, social interaction and involvement with faculty and with other students.”

Alfred and his attorneys are asking the suit be given class-action status, which would allow other affected students to also seek refunds through the legal challenge.

Messages left for the attorneys — from three different firms in Concord, Minneapolis and Pensacola, Fla. — were not returned Monday. Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Dartmouth announced in March the closing of its downtown Hanover campus and cancellation of in-person classes for its spring term to protect students and employees from the coronavirus.

Students and professors transitioned to online learning a month later. The college has said classrooms and dormitories will remain closed through the summer and hasn’t yet announced a decision on the fall term.

The combined costs of tuition and room and board for a full year at Dartmouth totals $76,480.

While Dartmouth officials have acknowledged that student experiences changed during the move to online classes, they’ve also defended a decision to continue charging full tuition, which costs $57,796 for students who do not receive financial aid.

“What we do is give students an education, give them access to faculty, access to content and what we do is support their educational experience,” Provost Joseph Helble told Valley News editors and reporters last month.

“Is their education being compromised? We say no,” he added. “You’re getting the same access to the same faculty, the same content, the same deeply engaging experience.”

Helble went on to say that tuition alone doesn’t provide full funding for “front-line faculty and staff” that interact with students on a normal basis.

Tuition and fees cover nearly a quarter of the college’s operating costs, while its roughly $5.7 billion endowment contributes 27%, according to Dartmouth’s most recent endowment report. Dartmouth also hasn’t charged students spring and summer room and board fees, which total more than $16,000 per student for an academic year.

Alfred paid $18,535 for his son to attend the spring term online and $19,265 for the summer term, according to the lawsuit. The son himself is not identified in the filing, but is likely to be a sophomore if he is attending the summer term.

The father argues those fees entitle his son to the “entire Dartmouth experience,” which includes “hands-on, interactive coursework,” the ability to engage in research, internships and study-abroad programs.

Instead, he says, students are forced into online classes “that are substandard and objectively less valuable” than previously available.

Dartmouth isn’t the only institution facing legal challenges to its decision to close campus over COVID-19.

Harvard University is facing a similar $5 million class-action lawsuit filed last month in federal court.

That suit, filed on behalf of unnamed students, says the school provides “subpar” online learning opportunities as an alternative to in-person classes, according to the Boston Herald.

Also in New Hampshire, a lawsuit also was filed against Southern New Hampshire University requesting a partial refund for the Manchester school’s shift to virtual classes.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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