US universities are charging full fees for ‘virtual’ class this fall. This is absurd

Universities with huge endowments are pretending remote learning is the same experience as in person teaching.  Harvard, for instance, is offering the bulk of their courses online, as are the University of California system, Yale, and Princeton.

What they all are not doing is reducing tuition, even though a significant portion of the value these educational institutions provide is now lost indefinitely. Princeton offers a 10% price cut, but  Harvard  ($40bn endowment ) still charges full tuition. 

Remote learning, no matter how well-intentioned, is a diluted product, and students deserve a tuition reduction for sitting at home and staring at a laptop screen. Professors cannot connect with students in the same way. And the ancillary benefits of college – making friends, networking, joining clubs, playing  sport– are  lost.

College costs have soared, and now almost every institution, in the age of coronavirus, faces a reckoning. There is an argument that students, especially at prestige schools, are still getting the value of a (prestigious) degree and therefore should pay the full freight. Isn’t the diploma ultimately what matters? But that’s not how colleges and universities pitch themselves to unsuspecting freshmen.

College life is supposed to be an experience. Part of the tradeoff of taking on crippling debt is supposed to be the creation of unforgettable memories, those four life-changing years you’ll never have again. Remote learning promises none of that.

Public schools are in a tougher position than their wealthier private counterparts, generating much of their revenue from tuition.  Many states have left world-class public institutions begging for money, especially after the 2008 economic crash. . Without a massive federal bailout package, public universities and community colleges will be suffering for years to come, starved of tax revenue in the wake of the pandemic.

College costs have soared over the decades owing to declining public aid, expensive athletics, increased demand, and the rising cost of staff, particularly those not tied to the faculty – and now almost every institution, in the age of coronavirus, faces a reckoning. They can continue to overcharge students. Or they can attempt a measure of economic justice.   (Ross Barkan, The Guardián July 11 2020, edited for length)

My comment: What universities should do is to stop the “arms race” in athletics, which has consumed huge sums of money and added to the indecent cost of university education. The writer was an oarsman during his time, always making academic work the priority, so I have nothing against sport; it just has to be kept in sensible perspective.  Epicurean moderation!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.