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Students, parents blast University of Minnesota for flat-fee room and board refund

Both students and parents say they believe a prorated refund is fair. The U is standing by its decision for now but will meet by end of week to discuss.

MINNEAPOLIS — It was a picture-perfect freshman year for Courtney Bissen at the University of Minnesota.

"Currently I'm majoring in industrial and systems engineering," Bissen said with a sheepish laugh on Wednesday. She says she's probably going to change her major.

Until mid-March, Bissen had a wonderful time at school. She was making friends, participating in activities, and enjoyed living in Pioneer Hall.

"Most students moved back in--that was around January 18th," she explained. "Our Spring Break was actually March 6th through the 13th or 14th. The university first told us that we should leave on March 12th."

As the coronavirus spread, it took with it many aspects of life. The campus at U of M now sits empty. Bissen said after much discussion with her parents, she moved back with them, the third week of March.

Courtney's mother, Lisa Bissen, said she wasn't without concerns. 

"For them to have to move home and for them to pay for their food and electricity-- you don't budget for that," Lisa said. "We already paid for her room and board and she's good over [t]here." 

Lisa added that with Courtney's classes happening online, she worried about whether their internet connection would be good enough. She said their WiFi was often spotty, adding to the list of worries.

On top of that, the Bissens both said they were in shock when they received a letter from the University, announcing it will be refunding everyone in the university system $1,200 for what's left of their room and board cost.

Bissens said they paid $5,300 for Courtney's room and board for this semester.

"It's a slap in the face," Lisa said. "Here's $1,200, when the students at the University of Minnesota-Morris pay $2,000 less a semester for room and board. Yet the board of directors say they're all getting $1,200 across the U of M system."

Courtney added that it costs more to live in bigger dorms or with fewer people. Those folks are also apparently receiving $1,200 back. 

RELATED: Some universities suspend face-to-face classes following spring break

In a letter to students, the University said they believe the $1,200 is 'reasonable.'

The letter reads in part:

"As we balance the considerations of all concerned, system senior leaders determined that a credit of $1,200 to student accounts is a reasonable credit for the remainder of each student’s residence hall and meal plan contract, or apartment contract. This approach will allow the University to process credits promptly and efficiently after April 1, while reflecting the fact that all expenses associated with housing and dining come from room and board charges. As we weighed the various considerations, please know we consulted with internal and external experts, as well as peer institutions.

"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. We felt an obligation to consider these and other fixed costs in our decision."

Courtney, who is a student worker herself, says she gets it. However, she said her family just wants to see the math.

"I understand needing to pay those students, I just, once again, wish we could see the breakdown of costs," she said. "Does it really cost that much to pay those students? If there's no one really living on campus still. Or at least very few people."

Lisa chimed in with similar sentiments from herself and her husband.

"Just tell me where the money is going," she said. 

"If I knew it was all going to people who can no longer work then yeah, that would be something that makes sense," Courtney added. "Just the unknown of where is it going to-- and their emails haven't cleared that up at all for us."

We have reached out to the University of Minnesota for their latest comment on the issue. In a response, they said the Board of Regents will be meeting this Friday at 10 a.m. to further discuss this topic.

RELATED: Students blast U of M for partial room and board refunds

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