Students, parents express frustration with room and board refund

Some have said the refund of $1,200, which comes as students leave campus dorm halls due to COVID-19 concerns, is not enough.

Freshman Marissa Mazzetta loads her belongings in preparation for her return to Illinois with her father, Jim Mazzetta, at Middlebrook Hall on Saturday, March 21. Mazzetta, like many freshmen at the University of Minnesota, is moving out of University housing as a result of COVID-19.

Kamaan Richards

Freshman Marissa Mazzetta loads her belongings in preparation for her return to Illinois with her father, Jim Mazzetta, at Middlebrook Hall on Saturday, March 21. Mazzetta, like many freshmen at the University of Minnesota, is moving out of University housing as a result of COVID-19.

The University of Minnesota announced partial refunds for University housing Monday, prompting backlash from the campus community. 

Students who have chosen to leave their University housing early will receive a $1,200 refund from the University, a flat rate designed to cover both housing and meal plan costs. Many schools across the country are adjusting refunds as they vacate early in order to prevent the spread of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

For students living in a double room at the University, with the most popular “14 meals per week” dining plan, the cost for room and board for the remainder of the semester after spring break would be approximately $2,655, according to an analysis by the Minnesota Daily. With the refund of $1,200, students who did not return to the dorms after spring break lost around $1,500.

Dining halls and dorms are remaining open to accommodate students who have decided not to or are unable to return home.

In response to the announcement, some parents and students took to social media to air their frustrations with what many deemed too low of a refund.

University President Joan Gabel responded to campuswide concerns in an email on Tuesday, expressing her sympathy for students under financial strain in these uncertain times. 

She also stressed the need to keep University housing and dining halls open for students who must stay on campus — and that those operations come at a cost. 

“As we weighed the various considerations, please know we consulted with internal and external experts, as well as peer institutions,“ Gabel said in the email. 

“We are also doing all we can to support the custodians, maintenance staff, cooks and service providers, student workers, and other front-line workers we rely upon to keep housing and food service operations functional for those who need it most,” the email continued.

The University is one of many schools that is providing some refunds for students as institutions across the country shut their doors to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, schools are handling it differently, with some providing no refunds at all.

Ohio State University, a member school of the Big Ten, also offered partial housing and dining refunds. The announcement came on March 15, after more than 25,000 students signed a petition urging Ohio State offer the refunds.

The University of Wisconsin system also announced they would be offering room and board refunds for the remainder of the semester, according to an announcement on March 19.

First-year student Michael Del Conte, who lived in a single room in Pioneer Hall for medical reasons, said he is frustrated that the refund is a flat rate. He had to pay around $600 more a semester for his room, costing a total of $3,852 per semester.

Del Conte said he was displeased that the University didn’t determine the individual refund needs of students for different campuses and situations.

“I just wish the University took more of a holistic approach at, like, taking care of their students,” Del Conte said. “In my first year at the U, I feel like this is the first major misstep where I feel wronged by the University.”

University Regent Michael Hsu said he is also dissatisfied with the $1,200 refund for students, and said he felt the Board of Regents should have been consulted on the decision.

“… We should treat our students fairly. And if they don’t want to live-in, then they shouldn’t pay to live-in. And they shouldn’t have to subsidize other students who are living-in,” Hsu said.

It is also important for students, many of whom are feeling uncertain right now, to feel good about the University and returning next year, Hsu said.

However, first-year Lafe Aarsvold, who lived in Middlebrook Hall before moving home, said it’s more important to keep the community in mind right now. 

Aarsvold’s roommate, who is from Shanghai, is unable to return home while many others in the dorms have left.

“I’m paying more so that my roommate can still live there, [so] that he can still eat there because, you know what, it’s not about me at this time. It’s about us as a community, coming together to make sure that we can all survive,” he said.