Kentucky Law Journal, Vol. 68, No. 2 (1979-1980), pp. 439-456


Institutions of higher education command and receive considerable respect in our society. An apparent corollary of this revered status is the deference accorded colleges and universities by the courts. This deferential attitude is brought into sharp focus when a contractual dispute arises between a private university and one of its students.

It is well settled that the private university/student relationship is contractual in nature. Educational contracts, however, are regarded as possessing unique features that require special consideration; a construction which preserves schools' broad discretionary powers is often viewed as essential. Thus, courts have refused to invoke a strict contractual approach in their consideration of these contracts. The result is that the contract theory, as it is currently employed, excessively supports the university's interests while those of the student receive little protection.

The recent decision by the Kentucky court of Appeals in Lexington Theological Seminary v. Vance is illustrative. In Vance, the court rejected a student's argument that catalog provisions used to deny the student his degree were too vague to be enforceable. While this ruling is consistent with the overwhelming majority of decisions upholding university regulations challenged on the basis of vagueness, a strict application of contract law presumably would have resulted in a decision favoring the student.

This Comment proposes that the Vance decision demonstrates the need for a strict contractual approach to the private university/student relationship. Without such an application, student interests will continue to be shortchanged. Because contract law provides a suitable framework for resolving these disputes, it should be stringently applied. The result would be a more equitable protection for student and university interests alike.