Piggy bank on school books FOR WEB

So the UNC System schools are planning to issue refunds for unused housing and dining fees because COVID-19 has closed most of the dorms and dining halls. That's what interim UNC System President Bill Roper told the Board of Governors on Monday morning. The UNC System and the individual schools (including UNCG and N.C. A&T) followed up with their own vague but promising announcements Monday afternoon.

And that's really all the detail we have at this point. When will those refunds go out? How much will everyone get back? Those are all good questions that, for the moment, lack specific answers.

Earlier this month, the UNC System promised an announcement on refunds after April 1 because each school was dealing with the more immediate crises of putting their entire academic programs online, setting up faculty and staff to work remotely, moving students out of campus residence halls and taking care of the few students allowed to remain.

On Monday, Roper hinted that his office might need a little more time to figure out these refunds. System officials are now parsing the federal coronavirus bill — the $2 trillion relief package signed into law March 27 — that will send close to $14 billion to the nation's colleges and universities.

Here's what Roper told the BOG on Monday (and here's the audio so you can hear it for yourself starting at roughly the 1:24.00 mark):

"In keeping with the students moving off of the campus we are well along in the process as you had asked us to do of coming up with a plan for refunds for housing and dining payments that have been made. We had hoped to have that done by late last week. It has gotten to be more complicated in that the very large $2.2 trillion federal CARES stimulus package has money in it for students and universities. We're trying to be careful in how we sort this out so as to get the maximum advantage for our students and their families. We should have that done very shortly ...

"In general, it's a plan to give full prorata refunds for housing and dining that will vary across the university system because the amounts that have been paid vary across the system. They vary within a given university because different living arrangements cost different amounts for students.

"We believe that once we have a plan, as we will very shortly, in the next few days, it will take about three weeks or so to get the checks in the hands of the students or whoever those funds should be returned to. I know everyone is anxious as we are to get that done as quickly as possible, but it's rather analogous to the commitment the federal government has made to send checks to most taxpayers across the United States. They are saying at least three weeks or so, so that's understandable."

One key variable to watch is the date the schools use to calculate their refunds. UNCG and N.C. A&T, for instance, had spring break the first week of March. Their students were back in class — and back on campus — the second week of March before they were told to clear out by the next week.

Lots of other schools (UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Appalachian State, East Carolina, etc.) were out on break the second week of March. These schools ended up extending break for a week and telling their students not to come back to campus. Some students haven't been in their dorm rooms since very early March except maybe to pack up their stuff.

So when and how much? I guess we'll find out shortly. I'll let you know when I hear more. Full disclosure: I'm one of those folks waiting on a refund check.

Have something to say about this blog post? Email me at john.newsom@greensboro.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @JohnNewsomNR.

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