COVID-19 has changed not only how students learn, but the perception of what qualifies as a worthwhile educational investment.
So much so that over the last few weeks, the most discussed topic within our Paying for College 101 Facebook group has been whether it’s okay to be asked to pay the same price for off-campus learning as it is for on-campus.
Remote Learning: Surveys Abound
Multiple surveys, including this one from the online note-sharing platform OneClass, have shown that the majority of college students nationwide feel the education they received last spring when they needed to move off campus was inadequate.
In July, OneClass released the results of another survey of more than 17,000 college students in the U.S. and Canada that asked: If colleges go online completely in the fall, how should tuition change?
Almost 93% of U.S. respondents said it should be reduced, and 6.3% said they should be able to opt out of fees for services they can’t use.
Reducing Tuition and Fees
So is it “fair” to pay for services that cannot be used? This topic hit home for many of our Facebook members.
Some commenters suggested that schools should deduct fees for services such as the gym, and the health center.
Others argued that these fees are not tuition, and acknowledged that schools have costs associated with maintaining each of these services. The compromise, they say, would be coming up with a reduced rate for them until students return full time.
What about reducing tuition in the fall?
Many of the reasons expressed by our members for not wanting to pay full tuition for remote learning come down to the environment itself—that when they are not on campus in a classroom setting, it’s challenging at best and varies wildly for many students.
This is partly due to poor internet connection or total lack of it, partly to their difficulty focusing on and retaining information when it’s presented on a small screen, and partly to each professor’s skills at online teaching.
Perhaps most importantly, they say that the biggest issue is missing out on in-person labs and research, where the real learning connections are made, as well as the social connections—many of which can last a lifetime.
In essence, they feel short-changed.
On their website, OneClass noted a Cal Poly student had summed it up this way: “I’m not paying full price for YouTube university.”
Yet even with numerous studies that show most families want reduced rates for learning remotely, only a small number of schools are actually offering them for the fall.
Why? For starters, money. Or the lack thereof.
Most schools say that they can’t afford to offer discounts, and that even though it may seem as if schools are doing less and getting more, it’s actually the opposite.
Not only do existing infrastructures need to be maintained, but technology has to be upgraded, additional help (such as instructional designers) added, and faculty trained on how to teach remotely.
Institutions are suffering from lost revenue to partial tuition refunds, room and board, fees, etc.”
In a story for CNBC, Robert Kelchen (@rkelchen), an associate professor at Seton Hall University’s department of education, says that there’s a difference in perceived value—that is, how students view what constitutes a college education versus how a college views it.
“Students see the value of an education also being the on-campus experience,” says Kelchen, “while the college sees it as paying for the classroom experience.”
Perhaps it will come down to a mindset shift. Here’s what a parent in our Facebook group had to say:
You’re paying for the credit hours and the degree. You’re not paying for, or guaranteed, a particular experience in getting those credits and degree.
As long as the credits and degree still count when you graduate, I don’t see why tuition should change.
You’re still earning the credits. Assuming they are still giving lecture/learning tools and the student isn’t having to teach him/herself!
What Students Want Most: A Professor Who’s All In
When Eric D. Loepp, assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, surveyed his students at the start and finish of their virtual spring semester, he asked them to rate the importance of certain factors in contributing to a successful remote learning experience.
As reported by Inside Higher Ed, at the top of the list was how well their professors performed.
Surveys aside, allowing time to find the right balance in this new learning environment will be needed for both students and professors.
One of our members shared her guidance to her children:
I encouraged my kids to be creative and extend grace to professors who seemed like they were struggling, just as we expected the same courtesies extended to students. Some online classes were horrible.
But faculty have had enough time, notice, and opportunities for training and retooling. I fully expect a better online experience this fall and will encourage my kids to be vocal if they aren’t getting what they need.
Fall Is Shaping Up to Be Different
“Remote teaching is not the same thing as online. We know that,” Jennifer Mathes, CEO of the Online Learning Consortium, told Inside Higher Ed.
Much of what happened last spring was done quickly, to keep students moving forward in some capacity. But now, schools have had some time and educators are hoping learning will improve.
“They are putting a lot of effort into developing quality programs and making sure that their faculty are prepared to teach in an online environment.
This means that the faculty not only understand how to use the tool but are learning how to be more effective in teaching in this modality,” said Mathes.
Waiting for a Vaccine
“At the moment, much remains uncertain, but unless a vaccine becomes available in the near future, I would bet that a lot of colleges will remain closed until 2021 and try to move all of their classes online.
The main issue with this scenario is that online courses aren’t as appealing to students as living on campus.
So, if this happens, and even if moving instruction online is an expensive process, colleges will have to find real financial incentives to make sure that enough students enroll in the fall.”
For now, the debate continues, and ultimately the decision you make will depend on your own personal circumstances and values. The goal is to find a way to keep your student moving forward with their higher-ed goals in some way, until a vaccine is available to all.
It’s a Matter of Perspective
This quote from one of our members sums it up, and provides some perspective to those who are struggling with the answer of whether they should be paying full tuition for remote learning:
Colleges didn’t create the pandemic. They’re rolling with it just like us. They have financial obligations and a fiscal responsibility to their employees. . . we’re all working with the cards we’ve been dealt.
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