Should College Come With a Money-Back Guarantee?

Higher EducationThe Department of Education has just proposed new rules that will enable new students to actually sue universities who defraud them. Of course, this is a controversial announcement that will rightfully punish those institutions which blatantly deceive incoming students but may also penalize many other high-quality colleges.

The new rules, basically, will enable students of any university to sue a school for tuition and recoup their losses if that school substantially misrepresents elements of education like employability for graduates or misrepresents the nature of these educational programs. Now, this is a lower standard than the regulation called mens rea, which is the legal principle in fraud cases that says crime requires intent. Thus, students can successfully sue a school regardless of whether or not that institution demonstrated deceptive practices.

Distilling that, though, this also means that a school could be sued over something unintentional: like a clerical error.

And that could cripple a school—especially one that hasn’t done anything wrong. Take the University of Colorado at Boulder, for example. Nearly one-third of its revenue comes from tuition so if just one class of students (approximately 5,000) were to be reimbursed for their tuition, the university would suffer a major financial loss. As a matter of fact this could then result in that school having to cut many valuable services.

It could also mean that a public school—like the University of Colorado at Boulder—would need taxpayers to help account for the loss. Less than 20 percent of full-time students at a public, four-year institution actually earn their degree in that time. In 2015, 20 million Americans enrolled in college, bringing the total student loan debt in America to $1.2 trillion.

On that note, though, does this mean that a college education should come with a money back guarantee? Basically, should universities come with a warranty, so to speak? After all, if you buy a new car or a television or computer, or even some food items, you can usually bring it back if you take it home to find it is not exactly what you thought it was going to be. Maybe the engine breaks down on this car or the television’s volume goes out or you open the carton of milk to find it has prematurely spoiled. You can take each of these items back to whence you bought them and get a refund.

But after four years (or however long it takes) to receive your degree, if you can’t find work in your field within the next few months or year, doesn’t that also somehow mean that the education you bought did not provide the value you had hoped?