I'm taking an independent phys ed course at my local university. I'm also currently studying for the GRE and I'm hoping to start grad school here in a totally different department in fall 2021. There's a professor I really like and have a good connection with here so I'm pretty set on this university.

The instructor cancelled the course after one class due to low enrollment, and the university is saying that since it started, it's too late for a refund on the $650 fee. I've called and tried to get a refund but their HR/registration department won't budge.

I paid with a credit card and I'm considering doing a chargeback. Would this hurt my chances at getting into the grad school later on, and I should just let myself be robbed?

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    Are you in the US? If the instructor cancelled that is totally different than you dropping. Have you spoken with the department chair or dean? They may be able to advocate for a refund. If they won't I would write a letter explaining what happened and send it to someone in upper administration. – Elin Jan 6 at 6:24
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    Sounds like the kind of problem that can be solved by simply talking nicely to people, and bringing the unrequested evidence (proof that the course got cancelled, proof that you've paid for it and so on). Don't let yourself be robbed, but keep a very cool mind in the process. Also, there is no need to have legal proof, a video made by you and the instructor explaining the course was canceled is not so hard to do, and is very strong proof for your purpose. – Mefitico Jan 6 at 19:47
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    If loudly going up the ladder of administrators all the way to the dean of students doesn't work, I'd encourage you to consider small claims instead of a chargeback. There's a decent chance the credit card company will side with the school (as they'll provide evidence you signed up and that the class started, winning the dispute); a small claims judge will very probably quickly side with you. – ceejayoz Jan 7 at 0:57
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    @Mefitico a video? What do you mean? Why would you make a video instead of asking the instructor to write a letter? What would you even do with the video? If I were the administrator and forced to sit through a video for something I could have easily read, I'd be pretty annoyed. – terdon Jan 7 at 12:33
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    @Mefitico yeah, that's what I thought you meant. As the instructor, I would find that incredibly intrusive (not everyone likes to be in videos) and as the HR person I would find it very annoying and more work than I am willing to do. All you need is a signed statement from the instructor. A video just makes everything harder in my view. – terdon Jan 7 at 13:33

Would this hurt my chances at getting into the grad school later on?

Practices vary, but probably not.

Will it hurt me later on?

Very likely. You probably will not be able to complete a graduate degree if the university thinks you owe money.

I should just let myself be robbed?

No, you should insist on a refund. Ask the instructor and their department to help you get a refund. Ask the registration department again. Ask to speak to the head of that department.

HR is probably the wrong department to contact.

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    Indeed, you will probably not be able to start a graduate degree if the university thinks you owe money. You could still be admitted, but they likely won't let you register for any classes until your debt is cleared. – Nate Eldredge Jan 6 at 7:32
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    OP may register but will not get a degree which will be withheld. Strongly recommended to make everything formal rather than operating by chargeback. – Captain Emacs Jan 6 at 9:20
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    Oh yes. When I was about to graduate, I was told I still owed some money (which I was unaware of) and would have to pay it before I would be able to get my degree. The amount outstanding: 25p (roughly 33 cents US). – Especially Lime Jan 7 at 15:02
  • Yeah, registration and/or the bursar's office would be the places to contact, not HR. – reirab Jan 7 at 23:15
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    @user207421: How so? A chargeback just reverses the payment you made. It doesn't erase the underlying debt and if it was valid, you may still owe it. The university can sue to enforce it, and they can certainly refuse you any further services until it's paid. If a court says the debt is invalid, that's another story, but the credit card company is not a court. – Nate Eldredge Jan 8 at 4:59

HR is not your friend. I'd recommend talking to any or all of the following people:

  • The instructor who cancelled the class

  • The department chair/boss of the instructor who cancelled the class (after trying the instructor first)

  • The undergraduate ombudsman

  • The Dean of Students

You should also figure out what, from the university's point of view, "the instructor cancelled the class" means. Does the class appear on the university's list of currently ongoing classes? If no, talk to the registration department or to general university administrators. If yes, then talking to the instructor or their immediate boss is more likely to be helpful.

The ombudsman (if such a position exists at your university) can be a wonderful resource. They will not intervene directly, but they will give general advice and explain how the university's bureaucracy works.

University bureaucracies can be infuriating. Good luck!

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    I often need to remind myself this line "HR is not your friend." they may look friendly and act friendly but they're not your friend. You may have friends in HR, but the HR itself as a department is never a friend nor friendly. Even the most helpful ones are still looking out for the company first and foremost. +1 – John Hamilton Jan 7 at 6:28
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    HR is the wrong department to talk to for a student, but I’m sorry, I have to downvote this repetition of the toxic myth that “HR is not your friend”. HR being your friend is a function of the workplace toxicity. HR can be your friend, and in a reasonable company they are. Don’t dismiss them without reason. – Konrad Rudolph Jan 7 at 14:12
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    it's not a 'toxic myth' at all, that's completely ridiculous to say. HR is not there for the benefit of the employee, or in this case student. They exist to protect the company. – eps Jan 7 at 17:48
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    @academic To the extent that this is within their power and responsibility, yes, absolutely. In all the workplaces I’ve had so far HR was helpful and proactive, and has, in two instances in particular, helped me personally (in one instance a group of people) enforce my interest against that of my employer. The claim that HR’s job is to protect the employers against employees is not true in general, and is indicative of malicious or incompetent personnel, not a natural law. – Konrad Rudolph Jan 7 at 17:52
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    @KonradRudolf HR’s job is to protect the company, in general. Sometimes that means protecting the company from their employees, sometimes it means protecting them from their own incompetence by helping out employees who might sue the company. – nick012000 Jan 7 at 19:52

Asking your bank for a chargeback may be a technical solution to the problem, but it is not a real solution. You may get your money back but if the University thinks you still owe them, they will hold your certificates until the debt is settled.

Consider shifting your focus from the money to the actual source of disagreement. Ultimately, it is a question of who is responsible for the cancellation of the course. From the first glance, it seems obvious that the University should accept the responsibility and refund the students, at least from what I can read in your question. But it's not happened yet. You need to understand better the university regulations relevant to this situation. You also need to understand better why the person in HR department believes they don't have to refund you.

Whom can you ask for help or advice? Can student union help? The head of the department, perhaps? Is there an external regulator in your country, e.g. Office for Students in the UK?

Also, is HR the right person to ask? Should you consult student finance, perhaps? Do you have an invoice / receipt for the money you payed and is there an address on this document of someone you can contact with issues?

Your situation looks strange to me and I hope it will resolve itself easily as soon as you find right people to talk to. Good luck.

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  • If the university thinks you owe them money after a chargeback they are in need of both legal and accounting education. This is simply not correct. – Marquis of Lorne Jan 8 at 3:42
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    @user207421 It's quite correct. The chargeback is just the bank refusing to facilitate the payment. It does not do anything to change the status of your legal obligation to pay the university. The bank can even decide that the debt is 100% legally valid but still decide to do the chargeback because the payment violates some rule of theirs. That wouldn't mean you didn't owe the merchant the money. (How could it be otherwise? The bank or payment company decides whether the chargeback happens or not. Only a court can rule that you have no obligation to pay.) – David Schwartz Jan 8 at 5:43
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    @user207421 You do not know that you will never receive the funds until you try to collect them. You can file a suit. You can place the account for collections. That the bank will not intermediate the payment of the funds doesn't mean the amount isn't owed or that the customer will not pay. Neither the bank nor the payment company can make that decision. – David Schwartz Jan 8 at 7:41
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    @user207421 Classic example: Someone buys something from you. You charge their credit card because you have an authorization on file. The customer files a chargeback claiming the authorization expired. You check, they're right, the authorization expired. They still owe you the money, right? They don't get the thing for free, do they? (They might even have an authorization for another card that's current and on file that you can bill immediately.) – David Schwartz Jan 8 at 7:44
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    @user207421 OP making a chargeback is not remotely the same thing as the university giving a refund. – Chris H Jan 8 at 20:38

When I was an undergrad I had some similar problem. At my school there was a special student advocacy office called the "Student Conflict Resolution Center" that was able to do... well, exactly what the name says. They were tasked with helping students navigate this kind of bureaucratic headache (among many other things). I explained the problem to them, they listened and understood it, and then they fixed it in a matter of days. It as a big weight off my shoulders.

You might want to see if you have a similar resource at your school. If you do, definitely get in touch with them.

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    This might be handled through an Ombudsman/Ombuds office at some universities, which often serves a similar function (with a remit broader than just student conflicts). – Zach Lipton Jan 7 at 5:01
  • This office would otherwise be called the Ombudsman's Office at many schools, and is a part of that office at my alma mater. I think the SCRC was formed with a mandate to specifically advocate for students. – Z4-tier Jan 24 at 2:36

I believe the correct term for a class to have enough students to be worth teaching is "to make." If the class officially didn't make, you should get a refund of course: the school decided the course doesn't even exist and can hardly make you pay. In this case, the school would not allow the professor to submit a grade, so it's out of their control. The prof could decide to teach you anyway but they couldn't submit a grade for it as the class simply doesn't exist.

If the course did make but your prof is literally refusing to do their job (this happens thanks to tenure) then you have a tricky position: even when tenured professors refuse to hold class or office hours or unfairly fail all their students (there have been cases of this) it can be contractually almost impossible for the school to remedy. From the school's perspective there is a class and your prof will eventually enter a grade for it, or not (which also happens). You'll eventually have credit hours for it at that school, even if the class isn't meeting. The prof might be penalized, but since you would be getting credit hours the school may not wish to refund. In this case what can you do?

If you want the teaching then you're out of luck. Prof says he won't teach. (Though idea: if the same course is offered at a different time perhaps you could just switch sections? You shouldn't have to, but just an idea. Maybe the second prof can't grade your assignments, which is a PITA for them, but lets you listen to lectures at least, which shouldn't put them out.)

If you want the class knowledge and don't need the actual weekly teaching part, perhaps you could self-study and the prof would administer tests for you at mutual convenience? That should be minimal effort for the prof and they might be amenable. If you additionally need some tutelage perhaps this could be available in office hours?

If you want the class credit and don't care about the knowledge you might be able to just get an auto-A or pass from the prof on just a verbal commitment to study the text.

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    Tenure means profs can't be fired for exercising academic freedoms, e.g. teaching courses or doing research which is not "liked" by the University for some reason. Tenure gives no protection if profs are not doing their job. Profs who refuse to attend the class can be fired for not fulfilling their academic duties. – Dmitry Savostyanov Jan 8 at 0:39
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    "Tenure gives no protection if profs are not doing their job." @DmitrySavostyanov if you research this Chronicle of Higher Education you'll find many cases where tenure does exactly that. The theoretical reason for this is, I assume, to keep an institution from trumping up a job performance reason to dismiss a professor who they in fact want to fire because they're coming up with new ideas that threaten the powers in society. "We can't fire Copernicus for his dangerous Heliocentric theory but he was a minute late to office hours so we'll just sack him for that." – Swiss Frank Jan 8 at 0:55
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    I agree in principle, but there is a vast difference between being one minute late to office hours and dropping the course completely after the first couple of lectures. – Dmitry Savostyanov Jan 8 at 10:22

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