Nearly all college students think distance learning should cost less. Very few schools agree.
After most colleges and universities moved online in the spring, three-quarters of all college students were unhappy with the quality of the education they received.
Now, roughly 93% of undergraduates said tuition should be lowered if classes continue remotely in the fall, according to a recent survey of more than 13,000 students by online note-sharing platform OneClass.
Yet only a small handful of schools are planning to charge less next semester.
While a number of colleges and universities have offered a break on room and board, nearly all of them have drawn the line at tuition.
Meanwhile, tuition and fees plus room and board for a four-year private college averaged $49,870 in 2019-20; at four-year, in-state public colleges, it was $21,950, according to the College Board.
"Part of it is a communication issue," said Robert Kelchen, an associate professor at Seton Hall University's department of education.
"Students see the value of an education also being the on-campus experience, while the college sees it as paying for the classroom experience."
There are, however, a few exceptions.
Hampton University in Virginia reduced tuition and fees by 15% for the fall semester, bringing the total cost down by more than $2,000 to $12,519, "because of the financial burden that the pandemic has had on students and parents," according to President William Harvey.
Spelman College in Atlanta announced that students who are completely remote will receive 10% off tuition and 40% off fees in the upcoming academic year.
In its plan for 2020-21, the historically Black women's school said "the college will provide the same high-quality experience regardless of method of delivery." However, the financial relief component is meant to "acknowledge the inconvenience of this year."
A third historically Black college, Paul Quinn College in Dallas, also slashed the cost of attendance after deciding to remain fully online in the fall to $5,996 from the in-person price of $8,321.
"We understand that this is a time of great uncertainty and unrest," President Michael Sorrell said in a letter to the community.
"These colleges are doing everything they can to help students," said Kelchen at Seton Hall. "It does highlight that African-American students have been particularly hard by the pandemic."
In fact, the coronavirus crisis has disproportionately affected people of color in the U.S., who have experienced both higher illness and death rates from the disease and more severe economic ramifications.
But, across the board, students and their parents say that online instruction is just not the same as face-to-face classes — and the tuition tab should reflect that. In some cases, some students have even filed lawsuits seeking refunds.
"One of the drawbacks of online only is that kids won't have the social experiences they would have in college," said Daniel Collier, a research associate at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
"We know that's important to persistence and performance," he added. "Even a high-quality online environment can't replace the tangible experiences students have on campus."
"Most colleges can't afford to offer discounts," Kelchen said.
Not only are the majority of faculty and facilities costs fixed, there are also new, additional expenses, including software and technological upgrades, associated with delivering educational material at a distance.
If anything, "online learning tends to cost a little more," Collier said.
In the face of rising costs, declining enrollment and reduced giving, many schools, in fact, are facing a significant shortfall.
Already, universities have furloughed thousands of employees and announced revenue losses in the hundreds of millions, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
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