Colleges and universities in New Jersey are at different points in the process of compensating displaced students for the room and board they couldn’t use when the novel coronavirus closed campuses in mid-March.

The state is requiring them to have a plan in place by the end of the semester. In general, graduating students are being promised prorated refunds and those due to return get credits. Some have begun issuing that money, others have a plan in place, some are still saying they’ll get to the topic soon.

“Many of the institutions are still working on the finer details of their policy,” said Gene Lepore, executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. “They have to be very thoughtful when they address it because the decisions could have implications on the students and their future financial packages and certainly the institution and its finances.”

 

“Most institutions have signaled that they would provide some form of prorated refund or credit, and they’re hammering away at the details now,” Lepore said.

The state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education has told institutions that they “should have a refund policy in place that they communicate with students as soon as is practicable, but before the end of the academic term.” https://nj.gov/highereducation/documents/pdf/index/HigherEducationCOVID-19Guidance-OSHE.pdf

Those policies have been decided by some schools but not others. Montclair State University has a unique wrinkle in its plan: Students who choose to take their refund as a credit will also be permitted one free course in this summer’s session or next winter’s session.

In addition to students’ and families’ finances, colleges are also considering how to balance their own books.

“No doubt about it, there’s going to be an impact. The hope is that the federal relief will stem some of the negative impact there,” Lepore said.

“Certainly there will be a negative financial impact to the institutions,” Lepore said. “And all the while we’re looking at a budget freeze from the state for the last four months of the fiscal year. Half of their operating aid is frozen right now.”

Last week, the state Treasury Department announced it had put more than $920 million in budget appropriations into reserve in anticipation of significant revenue declines and unexpected spending demands. That included $70.6 million in college operating aid and $9.7 million for county colleges.

Here are some of the room and board policies at some public institutions in New Jersey:

Kean University: “Right now our focus is on the health and safety of our community. The University will consider housing and meal adjustments at a future time. Thank you for your patience as we navigate this unprecedented situation.”

Montclair State University: “Students may choose to take their refund in the form of a credit that they can apply towards their fall 2020 bill or as a direct payment. … In addition, students who choose to take their refund as a credit will also be permitted one free course in the Summer 2020 session or the Winter 2021 session. The amount of the refund will be prorated for the period of time students could not use their housing, dining, or parking – starting with the day that courses resumed after Spring Break and going through the last day of the semester (Monday, March 23 – Tuesday, May 12). … Students will receive information on how to select and apply for their credit or refund no later than Friday, April 3. Credits and refunds will then be issued within 2 to 4 weeks.” Prorated parking refunds are also available to those who request them.

New Jersey Institute of Technology: “Students who reside in campus housing  and/or have purchased meal plans and/or have paid for parking on campus for the Spring 2020 semester will receive prorated housing, meal plan, and parking credits to their student account for the period of Monday, March 23 through Friday, May 15 due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial aid and scholarship policies may impact your credit. Details regarding the terms and conditions of the credit, and refunds to graduating students, will be posted to the Bursar’s and Financial Aid websites no later than March 27.”

Ramapo College: Students will receive prorated refunds for room and board, according to the college, The Record reported.

Rowan University: Rowan University Vice President for University Relations Joe Cardona told NJBIZ that Rowan is “trying to figure out how to compensate students. Different universities are looking at it in different ways. Some are looking at refunds; others are looking at credit or a combination.”

Rutgers University: “In light of the evolving State and universitywide changes related to COVID-19, Student Accounting, Billing and Cashier Services (ABC) will take the following steps in the coming weeks: Housing, dining and parking charges will be credited to each eligible student’s account. The refunds will be calculated on a prorated basis beginning on March 23, the first day following Spring Break, and ending on May 16, the required move-out date at the University. We encourage students to set up direct deposit to receive their refunds faster and more securely. Financial holds that block registration will not be placed on student accounts that have past due balances. We sympathize with families and understand the financial hardships that many families are facing during this difficult time, as well as the expectation that students focus on their academic work.”

Stockton University: Graduating seniors will get refunds, and all other students will receive credits for housing and meal plans, as well as transportation fees, the Press of Atlantic City reported.

The College of New Jersey: “By the end of the semester, the college will process prorated room, board, and selected fee refunds (for seniors) or credits to accounts (for non-seniors). We understand that there are varied circumstances among you; please be patient as we manage the specifics.”

William Paterson University: “Following is what we are planning but will not act upon until we have a better sense of the full extent and impact of the emergency modifications the University has implemented. We should be able to provide you details on the exact process and timing by April 10. For resident students who will not remain on campus during the remote learning and limited access period: You will receive a credit to your student account, pending review of financial aid and institutional scholarship award criteria, at the nightly rate for your residence hall effective Tuesday March 24 and continuing for the period in which the university is operating with limited access. You may request a credit of meal plan funds, pending review of financial aid and institutional scholarship award criteria, for the number of days you were unable to access your plan, in accordance with the type of plan you purchased. Commuters who purchased meal plans will be eligible to do this as well. We will consider reimbursement for those students who are graduating and not returning to the University in the fall.”

Policies at some private institutions in New Jersey:

Centenary University: “In addressing these financial concerns, Centenary must act responsibly to avoid inadvertently forfeiting any financial relief coming from the public sector, our insurance carriers, or our vendor contracts by making premature decisions. As a result, while we have begun to review the issue of refunds for room and board, a decision on refunds or on a refund process will not be made until later in the semester.”

Drew University: “Drew University believes that students should receive reimbursement for unused portions of their room and board fees. We are asking for time to analyze the complicated aspects of this issue to ensure that both the students and the universities—in this case, Drew University—are able to avail themselves of all possible programs and initiatives to provide relief from all sectors. … we expect to have refund policies in place and communicated within the next few weeks, well before the state end of academic year guidelines.”

Fairleigh Dickinson University: “I also want to assure everyone that we are committed to providing prorated refunds for spring semester room and board. We still need to determine the details and will share more information concerning refunds as soon as possible.”

Monmouth University: “The Board of Trustees has approved a policy to ensure that all students will receive prorated refunds or credits on unused room contracts, meal plans, and parking fees. All refunds and credits will be prorated for the period beginning March 23, 2020 through the end of the semester. Additional details will be shared shortly.”

Princeton University: Prorated reductions equal to 9/16ths of the semester charge are being provided, with those credits scheduled to appear by March 27. The amounts were $2,838 for rooms and $1,986 for the unlimited meal plan. Financial aid credits were not reduced. Students on financial aid received a $150 credit to help with the expense of moving out.

Rider University: “We are working through this and other issues and appreciate your patience as we respond to and keep up with this rapidly evolving situation. We will communicate in the days and weeks ahead with additional information as we know it.”

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