With the threat of coronavirus affecting the reopening plans of universities across the country, online classes have become a quick solution to continuing higher education. However, finding a way to effectively implement remote learning has been a challenge for faculty, administration and students alike. It brings into direct question the quality of education that returning undergraduate students are being expected to pay full tuition rates for.
While North Carolina tuition is set in place by the state legislature and cannot be adjusted at the discretion of administration, there are various aspects to tuition, such as fees, that can be discounted or removed altogether. For example, these fees can include things such as recreational fees, resources that individuals who are living off-campus and attending online courses may not be able to utilize during this time. Additionally, out-of-state students are still being expected to pay full tuition costs — which exceed over $36,000. Given the hefty price tag, is the new “college experience” still worth it?
Several institutions, such as Georgetown University and Princeton University have announced discounts ranging of about 10 percent on tuition as well as fee reductions. Davidson University in North Carolina has made the decision to defer tuition for seniors and anyone who requests so until April 2021. Another option that universities are pursuing is the allocation of grants to students who generally receive financial aid but are planning to live and study off-campus this year. Such decisions were made in part because a significant number of undergraduate students have considered taking a gap semester or year in light of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, UNC and other institutions have remained steady in listing tuition at the same rates for the upcoming academic year. The administration has even gone as far as to adjust housing contracts to abstain from being legally obligated to provide refunds in the event that campus must close down again in light of an outbreak. Although the University has a fiscal responsibility to protect itself and prevent further financial damage, it cannot and should not do so to the detriment of its students.
Now that the University has announced all undergraduate courses will shift to remote learning, the state legislature should consider reducing tuition and fees for these students. The quality of education from a Zoom call is incomparable to that of in-person instruction, and the “college experience” that students have historically paid for is far from the same as it has been in previous years. Tuition, or at the very minimum, campus fees, should reflect this change accordingly.
Furthermore, it is absurd that students are still paying fees for services they can’t even use. In July, the UNC System Board of Governors announced tuition and five basic student fees — athletics, health, student activities, debt service and student government association — would not change or be refunded regardless of any changes in instructional format during the year.
Many of these fees, such as the $129.21 Campus Recreation fee and the $159.60 Carolina Union operating fee, are unnecessary during a pandemic that has rendered these facilities inaccessible to most students. Given the enormous financial strain the virus has already placed on many students and families, the Editorial Board urges University leadership to suspend or refund these fees for all students.
The University claims to care about its students. If this is true, UNC should request a tuition and fee adjustment for all undergraduate students. It’s the least they can do.