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Some universities across North Carolina are beginning to give students refunds for unused housing and dining services as a result of the new coronavirus, which has sickened thousands of North Carolinians and forced college campuses and businesses to close.

The University of North Carolina System’s 16 college campuses will give prorated reimbursements for food and housing, interim President Bill Roper announced March 30.

Since then, several campus leaders say the refund process has already begun, including at Appalachian State and East Carolina universities.

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Some private colleges are also offering refunds or credits, including Duke and Elon universities.

“Duke is reimbursing students for any unused dining and housing credits,” said Erin Kramer, Duke University’s executive director of media and public affairs. “We made the decision early on and let students know.”

Elon will allow its on-campus undergraduate students to request prorated credits for housing and meal plan costs, leaders announced April 6. Details about those credits have not yet been finalized.

UNC System colleges have also been working out the details about how to reimburse students. Chief financial officers at each of the colleges were working together “to ensure uniformity of processes and calculations for determining refund amounts,” system leaders said.

“It is our commitment to all UNC System students and parents to get this done as quickly as possible. It is also our obligation to get this done right,” Roper said.

The UNC System has not required its colleges to refund any additional fees at this time.

Mike Byers, vice chancellor for administration and finance at Western Carolina University, said “the devil will be in the details” of how to reimburse students.

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“We anticipate that it will take us a few weeks to figure out the logistics because there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” Byers said. “We will figure this out, but it will require a bit more time for us to get it right.”

East Carolina University posted some frequently asked questions on its website to let students know how the housing and dining refunds will work. The refund process is expected to take no longer than three to four weeks, and not every student will get the same refund.

“The amount of refunds will vary based on multiple factors, including, but not limited to, the residence hall/campus neighborhood where the student lives, any pending charges/holds on the student account, and the amounts remaining on meal plans, etc.,” according to ECU.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced universities to transition from in-person teaching to alternative, online instruction when possible. The UNC System has restricted its campuses from hosting gatherings of 10 or more people, and graduations have been postponed.

Meanwhile, the entire state of North Carolina has been under a stay-at-home order since March 30. Gov. Roy Cooper said the order lasts 30 days.

“It’s what we have to do to save lives. It has the force of law,” Cooper said.

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Kelly Hinchcliffe is a Carolina Public Press contributing writer based in Orange County. Email info@carolinapublicpress.org to contact the Carolina Public Press news team.

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