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A judge has ruled that the University of Missouri broke the law for 15 years by charging thousands of instate undergraduates an estimated $450 million in illegal tuition. St. Louis County Circuit Judge Kenneth Romines found that the state broke a decades-old law that required free tuition within the university system for all qualified Missouri youths over age 16. University president Manuel T. Pacheco had argued “educational fees” the university imposed from 1986 to last year were different from tuition. The fee was based on each credit hour. But in his Dec. 6 ruling, Romines wrote that educational fees and tuition are the same. “Dr. Pacheco’s testimony was nothing more than pure pretense, incredible, and sadly not believable” he wrote. The judge did not award any damages to thousands of students enrolled at the Columbia, Rolla, Kansas City and St. Louis campuses between 1986 and 2001. A full refund could cost up to $450 million, the university estimated. “Obviously that would be a very devastating thing to happen for the university,” university spokesman Joe Moore said Tuesday. Moore said the university is leaning toward an appeal. The plaintiffs’ lawyer said he doesn’t want to bankrupt the university but wants some kind of remedy. “I don’t think there is any way that the court would order $500 million plus interest,” said Robert Herman, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of three students. “That would be unreasonable. But the judge has a lot of discretion to fashion an equitable remedy.” Herman said issuing vouchers for several years is one possible solution. Current students could use the vouchers for tuition, while alumni could donate them to the university for a tax credit or use them for their children. Last year, the governor signed a law overturning the old no-tuition law. It allows the university system to collect “tuition and other fees.” Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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