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Former Miss SC sues USC over tuition refund for 'deficient' online classes

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Davia Bunch (Crop) (copy)

Davia Bunch was crowned Miss South Carolina in 2018. She is suing the University of South Carolina for tuition refunds after she and other students were forced to switch to online classes during the coronavirus outbreak. File/Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization/Provided

A former Miss South Carolina is suing the state's flagship college to win tuition refunds for online classes required amid the coronavirus outbreak that she considered inferior to in-person instruction.

Davia Bunch, who graduated this month from the University of South Carolina, is seeking to have her lawsuit become a class-action and draw some of the other 32,000 students kept off campus since mid-March to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Bunch's suit calls the online classes "a material deficient and insufficient alternative" and cites a 2017 Brookings Institute study that found students received lower grades in online courses compared with in-person classes and that taking online classes increased the likelihood of students dropping out of school. 

She argued she also missed "a true collegiate experience" that includes access to labs, student union, intramural sports, cultural events and networking opportunities. USC canceled activities and will hold a virtual commencement ceremony.

Her suit, first reported by FITSNews, notes that USC charges less for its online degree completion program offered after students attend two years of college. The case is scheduled for a mediation hearing in December.

Bunch, 2018's Miss South Carolina who now works at a Charleston political consulting firm, does not specify how much she seeks in tuition refunds. 

USC has refunded students $15.9 million in dorm and food costs after campus was closed, but the school, like others across the state, has said it will not refund tuition.

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"While we are aware of many similar cases being filed throughout the country, we have not been served with a lawsuit," school spokesman Jeff Stensland said in a statement.

Students will pay the same for online classes as they would for in-person instruction because USC is providing the same standard of education in online courses and students in the fall would be choosing to take classes online, USC President Bob Caslen told The Post and Courier on Thursday.

The school is expected to lose up to $40 million in spring and summer revenue from the COVID-19 outbreak. Losses are expected to get worse with an estimated 10 percent decline in fall enrollment. One faculty leader suggested the financial hit could be twice as bad as the recession a decade ago.

USC already put hiring, raise and travel freezes in place and is weighing pay and program cuts. Caslen along with top athletics coaches, including football coach Will Muschamp, are taking 10 percent pay cuts. 

USC received $21.4 million in federal coronavirus aid, with half going toward grants for students.

State court records show no other tuition lawsuits against other large S.C. colleges — including Clemson University, College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina University.

Two South Carolina residents filed federal lawsuits in Charleston against the University of Miami and Drexel University to recover tuition for online classes.

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