I-Team: No Tuition Refund at NYU Despite Pandemic Hardship

A student says she paid a $ 5,000 tuition deposit just days before the pandemic began — but then her father lost his job, and despite losing all family income, the dental school has denied her request to refund the deposit

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New York University College of Dentistry is facing sharp criticism from one student who says the school has ignored her family's financial hardship during the Coronavirus crisis. 

Agata, a 21-year-old who asked to withhold her last name to protect her family's financial privacy, says she paid a $5,000 tuition deposit just days before the pandemic began — but then her father lost his job. Despite losing all family income, the dental school has denied Agata's request for a tuition deposit refund.

"We were in a tremendous financial hardship," Agata said. "They definitely should be more flexible with their policy because we are in a pandemic."

Rachel Harrison, a spokesperson for the NYU College of Dentistry, emailed the I-Team a statement explaining the school's decision to keep the deposit money.

"When we ask our newly accepted dental students to submit a non-refundable deposit, which goes toward their first semester's tuition, it is because the school and student are making a mutual commitment to one another," Harrison said.  "And the language around the deposit is very explicit, so that when an offer of admission is made and a student accepts and deposits, he or she does so with a whole-hearted sense of commitment."

After hearing Agata's story, Queens State Senator Leroy Comrie urged NYU to reconsider the decision to keep the $5,000 deposit. 

"I would encourage them to make that exception," Comrie said. "NYU, with all due respect, is a college that should be able to have that type of compassion and understanding for their students."

Comrie recently sponsored a bill that would require SUNY and CUNY schools to refund housing and boarding credits that were interrupted by the closure of schools in the Spring.  He said private schools with large endowments should be especially sensitive to pandemic related hardships.

"I would hope that all of the private schools would consider, with compassion, the needs of these students that just can't afford to pay," Comrie said.

Though colleges and universities may feel pressure to return deposits and fees, the trade association that represents admissions officers said there is an important reason many of these payments are non-refundable.

"Tuition deposits play an important role in academic and institutional planning," said Tom Green, Associate Executive Director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "As a college or university prepares for the fall term, academic administrators need reliable data on how many students are expected to enroll and in what academic programs/majors so that they may adequately plan for faculty, classroom and lab resources."

Although NYU has decided to keep Agata's tuition deposit, the school said administrators would take a second look at the refund policy in light of current events.

"No one can deny the widespread financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic," Harrison said. "We are currently reviewing our policy on deposits to ensure that it is attentive to these exigent circumstances."

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