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Spring Semester Is Starting Soon, Should Tuition Be Rising While Classes Remain Virtual?

The pandemic has altered nearly everyone’s day-to-day realities.Yet of those realities affected, one of the most impacted has been the college experience. In the spring of 2020, halfway through the spring semester, over 1,300 colleges and universities shut their doors.1

When the fall semester arrived, these institutions had developed more comprehensive plans. Yet the majority maintained a primarily online learning experience, leaving students with Zoom classes, irregular school calendars and little reminiscence of what college is normally like. Despite this, colleges are reluctant to lower, and some are even increasing, the cost of tuition. As we look towards the upcoming spring semester, this raises some questions - especially with millions facing COVID-induced financial hardships already. 

What’s "Zoom University" Like? 

Coronavirus restrictions don’t solely impact college classes; they reduce access to on-campus resources, experiences and extracurricular activities. Even many tactical classes, such as laboratory courses, are conducted remotely.

In particular, international students, out-of-state students and students without access to adequate technology have faced significant challenges.2 Concerningly, 71 percent of college students reported an increase in stress and anxiety due to the pandemic, with 82 percent of those citing academic concerns.3

Colleges are taking different approaches to the Spring 2021 semester, varying depending on the school size and location, but many are erring on the side of caution. As the pandemic’s timeline remains uncertain - and college campuses remain some of the easiest places for sickness to spread - “Zoom University” isn’t likely to end. 

The Tuition Increase

Despite what may seem like an overall decrease in the quality of the college experience, colleges and universities are largely reluctant to consider adjusting their tuition rates.

Of course, colleges are facing the unforeseen budget strains of increased sanitation, widespread COVID-19 testing and more technological manpower. Yet many of the richest colleges in the United States, despite increasing endowments, are continuing with tuition hikes for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Unfortunately, Tuition Hikes Aren’t Surprising 

However controversial the topic of college tuition, these increasing tuition rates aren’t all that surprising. From 1988 to 2017, tuition rates for private institutions have increased 129 percent after accounting for inflation.4 However, tuition increases have grown less drastic in the last decade, mostly remaining under five percent per year.4

For most universities, such as Dartmouth and Yale, these incremental increases in tuition were planned long before the pandemic began. The point of contention is the upholding of these planned increases. Many students are wondering if their virtual education is worth the same price tag as usual, and many are saying “no.” In fact, across the United States, college students have been petitioning for decreased tuition rates.

Looking Forward

Despite dissatisfaction among students, these tuition decisions are unlikely to change. Nonetheless, some institutions are offering student relief funding and additional financial resources. Many initiatives at colleges and universities are seeking to offer a more enriching virtual learning experience, including virtual events. In addition, colleges and universities are likely to play a large role in COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Of note, some students are opting for a more untraditional semester - the pandemic brought about an increase in gap years, gap semesters and temporary community college enrollment.

As the spring semester begins and tuition stays the same, college students hope for a sense of normalcy in the near future.

  1. https://www.ncsl.org/research/education/higher-education-responses-to-coronavirus-covid-19.aspx
  2. https://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/ELE_CoBrand_DP_FINAL_3.pdf
  3. https://www.jmir.org/2020/9/e21279/
  4. https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/trends-college-pricing-2017-full-report.pdf

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