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Students demand tuition cuts as more colleges pivot to virtual learning

Students at dozens of universities have circulated petitions demanding a reduction in tuition, with more schools switching to online teaching or entirely abandoning plans to reopen in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools have recently started to accept new students back, but controversies immediately plagued reopening plans as freshmen classes at several schools ignored quarantine and distance rules.

Purdue, Syracuse and UConn administrations all suspended students over such violations, usually due to a large party – typical of any incoming freshman class.

As coronavirus cases surge in some states, other schools have been forced to reconsider reopening plans. Ithaca College and Michigan State backtracked on initial plans after seeing how some schools struggled to handle safety concerns, with both schools opting for online-only classes.

In this July 23, 2020, file photo, Weston Koenn, a graduate student from Los Angeles, leaves the Boston University student union building as he walks through the student-less campus in Boston. As more universities keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

In this July 23, 2020, file photo, Weston Koenn, a graduate student from Los Angeles, leaves the Boston University student union building as he walks through the student-less campus in Boston. As more universities keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

“Given the current status of the virus in our country — particularly what we are seeing at other institutions as they re-populate their campus communities — it has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus,” President Samuel L. Stanley said in a news release on the Michigan State website.

Students have responded strongly to the suggestion that they will not have in-person instruction, an experience that many already went through earlier this year when the pandemic first started to ramp up in the U.S.

Many students complained that video lectures are stilted and awkward, with little personal connection with either professors or classmates.

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Students at NYU Tisch School of the Arts demanded at least a partial refund on their tuition in the spring following the pivot to virtual classes, saying that the experience was inferior. The dean claimed said she had no authority over tution, Insider reported.

Students at Drexel University, the University of Miami and the University of Colorado system filed lawsuits over the switch to virtual classes without any change to tuition.

College administrations say they have worked to improve the online experience from what students previously experienced. Some schools have actually offered a 10% tuition discount, including Georgetown, Princeton and Williams College, but many have remained firm on the price.

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Harvard is insisting that students pay the full $50,000 tuition, leading to pushback and roughly 20% of students deferring enrollment.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Mackenzie Holland, a freshman who left UNC on Tuesday. “All of those funds go to things that are specifically on campus, and I can’t utilize any of those things.”

Darlene Genander loads up her vehicle as she helps junior UNC-Chapel Hill student Caitlin Sockin move out of Alderman Residence Hall in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. As more universities keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost. (Julia Wall/The News & Observer via AP, File)

Darlene Genander loads up her vehicle as she helps junior UNC-Chapel Hill student Caitlin Sockin move out of Alderman Residence Hall in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. As more universities keep classes online this fall, it’s leading to conflict between students who say they deserve tuition discounts and college leaders who insist remote learning is worth the full cost. (Julia Wall/The News & Observer via AP, File)

At Michigan State, officials said they have no plans to lower tuition. They said other schools are cutting costs by leaning on part-time faculty or student assistants. Instead, Michigan State said it has invested in technology and faculty training to improve remote instruction.

“Regardless of the format of instruction, MSU is delivering what students pay for: courses taught by highly qualified and world-class faculty, tutoring services, office hours, academic advising and access to our libraries,” spokeswoman Emily Guerrant told The Associated Press.

MSU senior Tyler Weisner said the online classes he took last spring were less effective than what he gets on campus. Weisner, who started a petition drive aimed at reducing tuition, said he’s missing out on many of the benefits of college.

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“You’re paying that pricetag because colleges bring students from all over the country together, to experience different cultures,” Weisner said. “People don’t just choose strictly off education or the professor. They want a nice place to live and a new experience.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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