Students demand tuition cuts as colleges go online
More schools are scrapping decisions to fully reopen
As more universities abandon plans to reopen and decide instead to keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost.
Disputes are flaring both at colleges that announced weeks ago they would stick with virtual instruction and at those that only recently lost hope of reopening their campuses. Among the latest schools facing pressure to lower tuition are Michigan State University and New York’s Ithaca College, which scrapped plans to reopen after seeing other colleges struggle to contain coronavirus outbreaks.
The scourge has killed more than176,000people in the United States. Worldwide, the confirmed death toll crossed 801,000 on Saturday, according to a tally kept by JohnsHopkinsUniversity. The number of cases around the world topped 23 million.
In petitions started at dozens of universities, students arguing for reduced tuition say online classes fail to deliver the same experience they get on campus. Video lectures are stilted and awkward, they say, and there’s little connection with professors or classmates.
Many schools, however, say they have improved online classes since the spring. Some have instituted decreases of 10% or more, but many are holding firm on price.
At Michigan State, senior Tyler Weisner said the online classes he took last spring were less effective than what he gets on campus. Weisner, who started a petition to reduce tuition, said he’s also missing out on many of the benefits of college.
“You’re paying that price tag because colleges bring students from all over the country together, to experience different cultures,” he said. “People don’t just choose strictly off education or the professor.”
Similar petitions have been started at schools from Rutgers University in New Jersey to the University of Southern California. Plans to continue virtual instruction this fall are further angering many students who were frustrated by the experience of studying online last spring, when colleges across the U. S. abruptly sent students home as the pandemic intensified. In the wake of that, students at more than 100 colleges filed lawsuits demanding partial refunds.
It also renews a wider debate about the cost and value of a college degree. After years of increases, many students said they could barely afford tuition before the pandemic. Now, as families aroundthe country struggle, many say there’s a new need to rein in costs.
Some colleges lowered tuition as they moved classes online, acknowledging families’ hardships and the differences in online classes. Several universities in Washington, D.C., lowered prices by 10%, including Georgetown University. Princeton University also cut tuition by 10%. InMassachusetts, Williams College announced a 15% discount after moving to a mix of online and in- person classes.
Others, however, have refused. HarvardUniversity is charging full tuition — about $50,000 per year — even though all undergraduate classes will be online this fall. The Ivy League school invited freshmen to live on campus while taking classes online, but about 20% have deferred enrollment, the university announced.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill halted in-person instruction last week after 130 students tested positive for the virus. The university is letting students cancel their housing contracts without penalty, and it’s reimbursing students for their meal plans, officials said.
But students will still be on the hook for fees that aren’t likely to benefit them, including $279 for athletics, $400 for student health, more than $200 for campus transit and $160 for student union center operations.
At Michigan State, officials said they have no plans to lower tuition. They said other schools are cutting costs by leaning on parttime faculty. Instead, Michigan State said it has invested in technology and faculty training to improve remote instruction.
“Regardless of the format of instruction, MSUis delivering what students pay for: courses taught by high qualified and world-class faculty, tutoring services, office hours, academic advising and access to our libraries,” spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said.
At Ithaca, juniorMeghan Marzella said she understands that the pandemic has been hard on schools and families alike. But she said there’s no reason students should pay fees for the fitness center and library if they won’t be on campus.
“Tuition covers so much more than just classes,” said Marzella, who started a petition to reduce prices. “The reality of the situation is we’re still paying for things thatwe can’t access.”
Darlene Genander helps a student move out of her dormWednesday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The college halted in-person classes last week.