Cal U Old Main

California University of Pennsylvania’s Old Main building

California University of Pennsylvania has been hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging it cheated students out of the full value of their tuition when the campus was closed in March because of the coronavirus and switched to online distance learning.

The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, is asking that students be given pro-rated refunds for tuition for the spring semester. The suit argues that the online courses students took at Cal. U starting March 30 were “subpar in practically every aspect” compared to in-person instruction.

It also alleges that “previously recorded lectures were posted online for students to view on their own. Other courses involved professors simply posting notes online for students to review,” and there was “a lack of classroom interaction among teachers and students and among students that is instrumental in interpersonal skill development.”

In the 2019-20 school year, there more than 4,000 undergraduate students enrolled at Cal. U and almost 2,000 graduate students.

Ashleigh Coffman, a marketing major from Greensburg who just graduated from Cal. U, is the lead plaintiff in the suit. Coffman explained that she believed it was unfair that the university should keep her tuition money, and that of her fellow students, when the campus was closed. All 14 of the universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education closed in March to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, as did other campuses in the commonwealth and around the country.

“I worked two jobs to help pay for tuition,” Coffman said.

Coffman commuted to campus, so she will be ineligible for the partial refunds of costs related to housing and food that the State System has pledged to give students. The State System will reportedly lose $70 million to $100 million as a result of the refunds.

Christine Kindl, Cal. U’s associate vice president for communications and public relations, declined to comment on the suit. Gary Lynch, the Pittsburgh attorney who filed the suit, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Coffman said Lynch would be filing a similar suit against the University of Pittsburgh.

The suit against Cal. U is one of many that have been filed against colleges and universities across the country by students who say they have been shortchanged by classes having to go online. Such prestigious schools as Brown, Vanderbilt, Cornell and Purdue have been on the receiving end of suits, and officials at some of the schools have countered that students continued to be educated by skilled faculty online, and various forms of academic support have been available.

Staff Writer

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. He serves as editorial page editor, and has covered the arts and entertainment and worked as a municipal beat reporter.

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