Late last year everyone was focused on the holidays and enjoying family gatherings and end of year celebrations. There was shopping to do, presents to wrap and unwrap and plans for New Year's Eve parties or watching the ball drop in Times Square on TV. People were enjoying themselves and in the midst of the winter's long nights there existed a peaceful realm. Fast forward to four months later and the world as we know it has been changed completely, perhaps never to return to 'normal' again. Much of the population is under stay-at-home orders, restaurants are closed (except for takeout and delivery) and unemployment is rising rapidly. For college students, the coronavirus crisis hit like a tidal wave. They were sent home from their dorms and on-campus learning was replaced by class lectures over Zoom. Current enrollees and recent graduates began worrying about how they could pay their debts.
Educational Implications of Closing the Colleges
The decision to send everyone home resulted in a cascade of educational implications. Most schools issued the leave campus order in mid-March, roughly in the middle of the Spring semester. Instead of interactive in-person learning, students are now offered sterile lectures broadcast over Zoom. There was no opportunity for attending science labs, sharing learning experiences with peers or going to educational or social enrichment events. The college experience is stripped of its value and soon became exactly equated with its much less expensive, much less valuable online learning alternatives.
Refunds for Housing, Meal Plans and Parking Fees
Many attending universities have paid for their housing, meal plans and parking fees for the full Spring semester. Since the colleges and universities have not provided those services under their contract, parents and students are asking that all money paid for the unused portion of housing, parking and meal plans be refunded. The prorated portion to be refunded would be dependent on when the dorm was vacated. Many schools have already agreed to refund the unused portions of these fees. Amazingly, a number of others are refusing to address the issue at all. Some universities are very reluctant to issue any refunds, since auxiliary income is an important part of their revenue stream. Institutions that refuse to make these specific refunds are likely to face class action lawsuits.
Providing Refunds or Reducing Tuition and Fees
With education costs soaring year after year, most students have to take out substantial loans to pay for their tuition and associated fees. In addition to federal loans, students and their parents often sign promissory notes on private loans too. Now, with educational institutions moving to a remote learning model, they are questioning the value of the education being delivered now. A common feeling is that Zoom university is not worth $40,000 per year. Parents and students around the country are petitioning for refunds and a reduction in tuition fees when online learning is the only offering. Students cite the vast differences in the cost of in-person vs. online classes and the reduced quality of the offering. Unfortunately, colleges and universities are pushing back on these requests and almost uniformly offering no tuition or fee reductions at all.