MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of Minnesota will return an estimated $27.8 million in fees and housing payments to students who left campus in March because of the coronavirus, roughly doubling its initial offer following complaints from students and parents.

The Board of Regents on Friday, April 3, approved the new refund scheme, providing refunds prorated from March 28, when Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order went into effect.

Students who moved out of university-run housing to slow the spread of COVID-19 will get housing and dining refunds for the semester’s final seven weeks.

Students also are getting fully prorated refunds for fees related to recreation centers, parking, transportation and safety, and a 50 percent prorated refund for student services. The U said services such as mental health support still are being offered by telecommunications.

President Joan Gabel said the governor’s order, which effectively barred students from returning to campus, forced officials to reconsider their refund.

“Things feel quite different since then,” Gabel said of the March 28 date.

Still not enough?

However, several regents said the increased refund still falls short.

Michael Hsu proposed prorating the refunds from the end of spring break, or March 18 at the Twin Cities campus; that’s when online instruction began.

“I think we should be treating them as fair as possible and this proposal doesn’t do that,” he said.

It was March 16 when the U asked students not to return to campus and said there would be no more face-to-face instruction in the semester.

“Picking the date that we did shorts many, many students who followed our directive weeks earlier,” Darrin Rosha said.

Richard Beeson said the U has numerous fixed costs it must cover even though most students have left, including utilities, staffing and expenses related to online instruction. Students who had work-study jobs continue to be paid even though, for many, there’s no work being done.

“There’s a lot that we’re absorbing that we’re not passing along … because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Hsu’s amendment, which would have cost the U roughly $6 million more across the five campuses, failed on a 6-6 vote.

Refunds vary

The U told departing students on March 22 that they would get $1,200 refunds for housing and dining at the Twin Cities campus and $1,000 at the other four campuses.

The new refund scheme required thousands of calculations for various dorms and meal plans, Gabel said.

Julie Tonneson, associate vice president of university finance, said a typical Twin Cities student now will get a $2,364 refund; Morris roughly $1,900; Crookston $1,600; Duluth $1,500; and Rochester $1,400.

Some students with nowhere else to live remain in on-campus housing.

Regents met Friday by videoconference with almost 1,200 people watching on YouTube at one point.

Voting with Hsu for more generous refunds were Rosha, Thomas Anderson, Mike Kenyanya, Janie Mayeron and Randy Simonson.

Anderson and Mayeron joined the majority in a final 8-4 vote approving the new refund program as proposed by President Gabel.