When the coronavirus pandemic upended our normal way of life here in the U.S. in mid-March, no stone was left unturned.
That includes the higher education system, as colleges and universities necessarily shut down their campuses in March and sent students back home to complete the Spring semester via online classes.
The circumstances were unprecedented and the timing was sudden, so the virtual solution to completing this past semester was imperfect. There is no doubt colleges and universities were dealt an unwinnable hand and tried their best to provide a fulfilling learning experience for their students.
STUDENTS PAID FOR A FULL SEMESTER OF TUITION DESPITE THE MOVE ONLINE
And, college students are just about split in terms of their feedback on the coronavirus-induced virtual learning experience this past Spring.
In a report from LendEDU that included data from a survey of current college students, 42% believed the online learning experience was “adequate and worthwhile,” while 48% did not, and 9% opted not to say.
Yet, whether or not virtual college provided an adequate semester of education does not change the fact that the vast majority of college students paid for a full semester of what they thought would be the traditional college experience.
COLLEGE CAN COST UP TO $50K PER YEAR FOR MANY STUDENTS
In 2020, the cost of college runs the typical student around $50,000 for a single year. The 2020 Spring semester was paid for and underway before the pandemic forced campuses to close their doors.
Students paid for half of that $50,000 thinking they would be receiving the full college experience; having access to state-of-the-art facilities and professors, while learning how to become self-sufficient and broadening horizons makes the college price tag a lot easier to swallow.
Students, of course, did not receive any of this during the Spring semester despite paying for it, which is why they should be partially refunded at a rate that more accurately reflects the higher education experience they did receive this past Spring.
SOME 82% OF CURRENT STUDENTS BELIEVE THEY SHOULD RECEIVE A ‘PARTIAL TUITION REFUND’
Is it really fair for the already overpriced colleges to keep that money when all they provided was access to a couple of Zoom classes?
That same survey from LendEDU found that 82% of current college students believe they should receive a “partial tuition refund to more accurately reflect the learning experience [they] received during the Spring 2020 because of the coronavirus and its impacts.” Only 10% do not believe this, while 7% were unsure.
In what will be an interesting development to follow, there has already been over a hundred class-action lawsuits filed by students against their respective institutions in an effort to clawback some tuition money they paid for the 2020 Spring semester.
Somewhat surprisingly, the survey from LendEDU found that just 34% of current students would consider joining such a lawsuit against their respective college, while 42% would not, and 24% were not sure either way.
SOME SCHOOLS ALREADY PLANNING FOR ONLINE IN THE FALL
Moving forward after providing a partial refund, colleges and universities should next discount tuition rates for the upcoming Fall semester if they decide to remain virtual. There have already been some colleges, like those in the California State University system and Harvard Medical School, that have confirmed the Fall semester will be a virtual one.
If any other higher education institutions decide to take the same path, discounting tuition for the virtual learning experience seems like a sensible and fair move to make.
It’s possible that some colleges will give students the option of either returning to campus or continuing with online learning. Any institution that does this should price tuition at two tiers: one standard rate for those attending in-person and one reduced rate for those attending online.
ONLINE COLLEGES ARE POISED TO MAKE A MOVE
College should not only do this because it is the right thing to do, but also because it serves their best interests. Many expect online colleges to become competitive alternatives to traditional colleges going forward, which could result in a major drop in demand amongst students.
Already, the University of Michigan expects a 2020 revenue loss of up to $1 billion because of that demand reduction. One way traditional higher education institutions can remain competitive in the future is by offering an online route to a college degree that comes with a much lower price tag.
If this move is made, one could expect prospective college students to flock to prestigious colleges and universities to earn a cheaper college degree as opposed to going to an online college that does not carry the same name reputation.
Author Bio: In his role as Director of Communications at LendEDU, Mike uses data, usually from surveys and publicly-available resources, to identify emerging personal finance trends and tell unique stories. Mike’s work, featured in major outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, provides consumers with a personal finance measuring stick and can help them make informed finance decisions.