With most of the country on lockdown due to COVID-19, high school and college students have been hit hard with school closures and an uncertain academic future.
Most if not all classes have been moved to remote online learning for the remainder of the school year, with cherished traditions such as basketball games and graduation ceremonies canceled or revamped into virtual events.
The rapid changes have left millions of students scrambling to make sense of how they’ll finish out their college careers, or if it’s even advantageous starting as a freshman come the fall.
College, after all, just isn’t the same without in-person classes, clubs, organizations, sports, research opportunities, and internships, as well as the option to live on-campus and make new friends and meet new people.
Coupled with a growing strain on the economy, rising unemployment, and an assortment of health and financial challenges facing most Americans, the expense of college may no longer be worth it.
Students Want Refunds
As for students currently enrolled in college, a different question arises: Will their schools be refunding them for tuition and room & board?
Students are taking action and according to Inside Higher Ed, law firms are capitalizing on the fact that new clients are popping up every day.
Students at both Drexel University and the University of Miami recently filed two separate class-action lawsuits against their respective institutions, demanding reimbursement for services they are no longer receiving such as one-on-one time with professors, access to campus facilities, hands-on-learning, mandatory activity fees, as well as athletic and wellness programs, CNBC Make It reports.
“Although [the universities are] still offering some level of academic instruction via online classes, plaintiff and members of the proposed [classes] have been and will be deprived of the benefits of on-campus learning,” said the students in both lawsuits, “the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished.”
At Drexel, known for their undergraduate co-op program, students not only pay for classes, housing, textbooks, and materials, but in-person access to labs, professors, as well as unique internship and employment opportunities.
Such co-op benefits can help them significantly when applying to graduate school or landing their first post-collegiate job.
The University of Miami, meanwhile, leans heavily on advertising their lush palm tree-lined campus, state-of-the-art facilities. and modern student housing to draw in prospective students.
A representative for Drexel told CNBC Make It: “Drexel has not had an opportunity to review the complaint and as a general policy does not comment on matters in litigation.”
Meanwhile, University of Miami vice president of communications, Jacqueline Menendez, told CNBC that the school is “aware of the court filing and we will continue to monitor the situation,” adding: “At this time, the University will not have any further comment since this involves pending litigation.”
At New York University, where tuition costs average $54,882 a year and more than 51,000 students are currently enrolled, over 11,000 students have already signed a petition calling for a partial refund.
“The fact that school has transitioned to remote teaching means that we students are not gaining the same level of teaching from the university in addition to the fact that the school does not need as much money to run now that everything is remote,” wrote petition creator Matthew Harnick.
“Thus, students should be discounted for whatever the non-profit university is saving on, and only pay for what we are getting!”
“I’ve been robbed of my education,” wrote petition signer Matthew Lewis. “While it’s not the university’s fault, they are saving money by not having to run the campus.
We should receive that money back since we are losing the educational benefits of [in-person] classes.”
Similar pop-up petitions have emerged in an effort to get the attention of their respective administrations, including those from students at major states schools such as the University of Georgia, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Florida.
Colleges Get Creative
While we wouldn’t call it caving in to pressure, some schools, like Southern New Hampshire University, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, will “drastically revamp” how it conducts on-campus learning beginning in the fall.
It goes on to say that, “As part of the changes, tuition will be cut 61%, from $31,000 to $10,000 starting in the 2021-2022 academic year.”
While many other schools seem to have taken a wait-and-see approach to the crisis, American University recently made a pre-emptive decision to discount all undergraduate, graduate, and law courses for the summer.
“Guidance from federal, state, and local governments indicates that the virus will likely still affect our communities when summer classes begin in May,” wrote AU president Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
“Continuing our online instruction through the summer will safeguard the health and well-being of our community, provide flexibility for our students, and support our ongoing educational mission.”
American University’s campus is located in Washington D.C., where school closure has been extended through May 15 and possibly longer.
The offered discount on summer classes will translate into approximately $1,000 in savings per student, while still providing them the opportunity to remain on-track for graduation.
In the coming school years, earning credit hours towards a degree may take precedence over having the traditional “college experience.”
Still, part of the lure of college and graduate school is said experience, which includes a vibrant community, athletics, hands-on learning, and an array of ideas and challenges that can only be fully experienced through face-to-face interaction.
Time will tell if more institutions will offer refunds either similar to or more pronounced than those offered by schools like American University.
“I am spending thousands of dollars — and I’m going to be in debt for it for the rest of my life — to sit on my couch,” Cornish College of the Arts student Emma Chalut told Crosscut. “I feel like I’m not getting what I paid for.”
And how do higher ed officials feel about this?
Saying he could not predict whether these lawsuits will spur on others, Peter McDonough, vice president and general counsel for the American Council on Education, said to Inside Higher Ed, “I hope that students and their families will have a look back and [feel] appreciation for everything institutions did do to help them through this.
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