College students protest full tuition for online classes

NEW YORK CITY (CNN) – A lot of college students won’t be back in the classroom this fall. So should they still have to pay full tuition? Some colleges don’t think so and they’re cutting fees or tuition. But as CNN’s Bianna Golodryga reports, many colleges are too cash-strapped themselves to make offers like that.

When Rugters University student Shreya Patel launched her petition to lower tuition fees in July, the New Jersey university had just announced that most of its fall classes would be conducted online.

“So we kind of find out on their website on their frequently asked questions and said will we be getting a refund? And they said no,” Patel said. “It just doesn’t make sense to be paying such a high amount for something that not being used to the full advantage.”

Nearly 31,000 signatures later, she’s created a movement for other frustrated students like Janani Subramanian.  “So, I think the biggest thing is a lack of transparency,” she said. “We don’t know where this money is going.”

The pressure from nearly half of the student body ultimately led the school to cut campus fees for the semester by 15%. Not enough, said Janani. “Tuition reduction would be great, but there’s fees are what we are paying for and if we’re not going to be here, what’s the point?”

Experts like Scott Galloway, himself a university professor, believes students are right to be outraged. “Universities have backed themselves into a corner,” he said. “And that is, we have raised tuition on average two and a half fold over the last 20 years.”

More than 75% of the country’s 5,000 colleges and universities are expected to be partially or fully online this fall and some are joining Rutgers in discounting fees.

Williams College is dropping tuition by 15%. Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Georgetown, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University are cutting tuition by 10% while other schools such as USC offer their students living at home grants for those choosing to study at home.

American Council on Education Senior VP Terry Hartle said, “Interestingly enough, some students will be in residence halls at the campus but their courses will be online.”

But the majority of schools, from state schools like Temple University and the University of Massachusetts system, to elite private schools like Harvard and Stanford, are keeping tuition as is.

When Hartle was asked if he was surprised that we haven’t seen more offer even a small tuition reduction, he replied, “I think universities have handled this about as well as they could possibly have handled it. Universities have to balance their budgets.”

Hartle, an advocate for higher education, said ever since COVID-19, universities have lost millions. “Every institution of higher education in the country has suffered losses,” he said. “Room and board, the international students, the hotel, the bookstore. All of those have just largely disappeared.”

Experts also say higher education institutions are better equipped for online learning than K-12 schools, which could help drive down tuition costs.

NYU Business Professor Scott Galloway said, “It is time to lower costs and move education back to what it used to be.”

But millions of college students, like Shreya, still feel deprived of campus life and depleted in their bank account. “I don’t think the financial well-being of a billion-dollar institution should be compared to students who are severely struggling,” she explained.

The American Council on Education, a higher education trade group, put colleges’ losses in the spring at $46.6 billion.

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