When discussing college in America, every applicant has many factors to take into consideration: how big, how far from home, areas of expertise, and, the biggest decision of all, price. According to CNBC, 69 percent of college students take on loans to attend college, graduating with an average debt of almost 30,000 dollars. You do not need someone to tell you how much 30,000 dollars is worth to a family struggling to make ends meet. So with such a great cost, what does a college offer? Specifically, what does a smaller private university offer that costs so much?
College represents the opportunity for greater future economic mobility and more lucrative career opportunities because it sells a level of education paralleled nowhere, hence the great cost; however, what specifically gives graduates the skills they need to thrive? For many smaller liberal arts colleges, the answer is generally the same, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education: smaller, more immersive classes, faculty engagement with students, and a closer knit campus and alumni community. These advantages to many seem to equal the enormous bill every semester, and often this is true, but, in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, everything has changed.
Today, students have pretty much been evicted from the living spaces that they prepaid for at the beginning of the semester; the campus community has disappeared, and worst of all, the ‘immersive’ and ‘unreplicable class environments’ have been substituted for generic and hands-off online video calls. To be clear, these actions were not taken by the students and thus they should not be financially responsible for the universities’ decisions to change the terms of their investment without their consent. Accordingly, the universities should refund the remainder of the semester’s room and board costs in full along with any future months’ payments on leases while students are banned from school because it was the university’s decision to evict them.
Next, the campus appeal has disappeared entirely. In many cases, what was once a bustling center of young adults in a local community has now become a ghost town while the campus has been moved online. Now while this is a product of social distancing and measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, it is also a loss on the investment that the customer (student) expected a return on. Students would not be paying a premium for a small college appeal if they wanted to live at home and take online classes. Thus, they are owed compensation by the institution that dissolved that aspect of their considerable investment in higher education.
Lastly, there is the costliest loss of all: the change in academic environment. What was supposed to be an immersive, in-person learning environment with some of the smartest academics in the world have now become video calls from a bedroom.
In some cases, like my own, students do not even have the Wifi at home to support a 15 person video call. As a result, the audio is not clear, the videos and presentations are difficult to view and the learning environment is now full of distractions. Students should be shaking their heads and saying, “This is not what I paid for,” and they would be correct. What they paid for was what universities advertised: the small classes, the engagement, and the value of learning knowledge in a place where the individual student matters and is not another face in a lecture hall.
In America, 7 of the 10 best-endowed universities in America are small liberal arts schools, with Harvard at the top with 38 billion dollars. To date, none of these universities have announced any plans to refund money to the students, and few others plan to. Some universities are considering refunds for room and board, which is appropriate and admirable, but the refund of a few months rent is in no way equivalent to a loss of a few months of premium classroom learning. The refunds given will be sparse and below the real, unseen value of education lost in the coronavirus pandemic.
This is a despicable act by universities who charge exorbitant amounts for tuition based on ever increasing federal student loan availability. Their refusal to acknowledge the enormous financial loss incurred by students as a result of their actions is apathy akin to only Marie Antionette and they should be ashamed. With billion dollar endowments and campuses marketed towards taking on the needs of individual students, there should be a check in the mail for an amount much larger than room and board for every student of these institutions.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.