I’ve seen many comments on Facebook lately from different groups talking about college tuition and fees. The feeling is that college is “not worth as much” if classes are brought online. A Montclair State University (NJ) student and New Jersey resident has recently filed a lawsuit around this point.. Students in the University of California and California State University systems have also filed suits. But those suits are focused around student fees.
The dictionary definition of tuition is that it is “the price of or payment for instruction.” If I take this literally, it will be the costs for a college to teach the classes that you take. Take one course, and you’re usually charged per credit. Take a full load, 12 credits or more, and you’re charged a flat rate. If you attend a state university such as Rutgers or Penn State, chances are that you will be told that tuition does not cover the total cost of instruction.
College classes at a school like Montclair State, among others, could be lectures, small group meetings, labs, sometimes a combination of all three. Large and small classes can be put online. The question is: will the experience be the same? The answer: to depends on the professor’s comfort with the technology and the school’s resources to deliver the class.
If a lecture is presented with no students present and no interaction, it’s not the same as an on-campus class. The interaction when the class is on campus can be as important as the content of the lecture. I am not surprised that college students complained about the transition to online classes. But so many schools had to ask students to leave campus mid semester. Every class they offered had to be brought online. I doubt that most colleges had enough time to do more.
But should students receive tuition refunds? If the school prevented students from doing the work necessary to pass the class, the argument for a refund is legitimate. If it did not, the argument is void. Colleges have an obligation to deliver a class. But they have no obligation to assure grades.
As this semester ends and the colleges plan for the fall, academic deans and faculties have more time to redesign courses. Many college communities are optimistic that students will be able to return to campus. But some are quite pessimistic. One school, Cal State Fullerton, committed to putting all large lecture classes online for the fall. However, that school has made no announcements about tuition and fees. But I have no doubt this school, and most other public universities, will be pressured to hold tuition increases to zero, or close to it. That may lead to a smaller selection of classes outside of the requirements for most majors. It might also mean that fewer teachers will be around to teach.
Chances are the larger the school, the more likely the lectures in the popular introductory courses will be online. Smaller classes that focus around small groups can be delivered online. But chances are that the smaller the school, the more effort the teacher will put into making the course as informative online as it would be in person. Smaller colleges, including liberal arts schools and public honors colleges, make teaching a high priority.
Student fees are a different story. They cover the costs of services such as student success, career development, tutoring, mental health counseling, and more. They also fund clubs and organizations. Most of them can still meet online. Student fees also help fund college athletics. I can understand a concern around sports: teams could neither compete nor use the facilities. But they need to be maintained and secured. The people who do that work deserve to get paid. So do the coaches, unless the school plans to shutter a sport.
I do not expect colleges to decrease fees. They could remain flat for a year or two, unless the school has committed to a building a major sports or student complex. A school want to complete construction, generate income and pay down debt. Colleges are also image conscious employers. They do not want to put workers, including contractors, out of work.
What should you do if you are concerned about tuition and fees for next year?
If your child is enrolled in college as a freshman or sophomore, and you are unhappy with the transition to online classes, convey your objections to the academic dean for your school. Ask questions about how classes will be taught in the fall. Find out if the courses that your child needs to complete their degree will be available. If your child wants to change schools, find out if their interests will be better served at another college. You have every right to ask questions–and shop if you are not satisfied with the answers.
If your child is about to finish an Associates degree at a community college, look into the four-year colleges where your community college has articulation agreements. Look at costs, of course, but also ask how the classes in your intended major will be taught. Articulation agreements are intended to allow a seamless transfer. Some four-year schools teach courses, even offer degrees on your community college campus.
If your child is about to begin a journey to college, you have every right to ask a different set of questions. You want to know how classes will be taught. There are effective ways to teach a class online as well as on campus. There are ineffective ways, too. Ask how the college will help students, including your own child, should someone get sick. If you prefer that the college experience be closer to home, ask how the school accommodates commuters.
Do your best to get the information that you need to make the best informed decision. I’m also here to help.
For advice on how to begin your journey to college in this new reality, call me at 609-406-0062 or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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