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Will Coronavirus Affect University Fees?

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Dominique Broadway
Will Coronavirus Affect University Fees?

With more than 200 Universities and Colleges now having closed their doors across the United States due to coronavirus, a lot of students have been left wondering exactly what all this means for their education.

No doubt they’re wondering whether they’ll still get their degrees, how classes will be performed online, and most importantly, whether or not they’ll be refunded any of the fees for missed tuition.

The answers to these questions are unfortunately a little complicated and will depend on each individual institution.

However, we’ll delve a little deeper into these questions and see how much the average student might be paying as they move to a new online way of studying.

The Move to Online Learning

Many of the institutions that have canceled in-person classes are making the switch to online tuition where possible. However, there have been some teething troubles and students are concerned as to whether they’re getting the top-quality education they’ve paid for.

On the plus side, a lot of disciplines lend themselves well to online teaching and virtual classrooms and the technology to do this has been around for a number of years. Virtual learning environments, such as Blackboard, allow students to share screens, send questions to the professor, break off into smaller discussion groups and “raise their hands” to get the teacher’s attention.

But what about those courses where studying online isn’t an option? Subjects such as the sciences which involve practical lab experiments, or the performing arts that require ensemble work, are much more difficult, if not impossible to complete from home.

So far the responses have been different from each university. The University of Washington, for instance, is considering accepting grades based on work completed to date and canceling all remaining classes, whereas at Hofstra University in New York, individual professors are considering how best to conduct experiments remotely.

To add to the worry, a lot of students have also been kicked out of their dorm rooms and sent home, adding an extra financial burden at such short notice. So, with no access to accommodation and a potential lowering of standards, it begs the question: is the Bachelor's degree currently worth the money while this crisis is ongoing?

Will Students Get a Refund on Their Fees?

Before the coronavirus crisis hit, the average cost of a four-year degree was as follows:

Private university:

  • Fees - $36,880
  • Room and board - $12,990

In-state-students at a public university:

  • Fees - $10,440
  • Room and board - $11,510

Out-of-state-students at a public university

  • Fees - $26,820
  • Room and board - $11,510

A lot of students feel that they’re being charged for something that the universities are simply no longer supplying and feel a refund should be on the cards. Unfortunately, it looks like many institutions simply aren’t going to refund any fees at all, though.

The universities argue that they simply don’t have the cash reserves to refund student fees while they’re still paying employees. Another argument in the universities’ favor is that since the majority of classes are still going ahead online, most students are still getting, to some extent, the full learning experience.

For those unable to complete classes, online alternative solutions will be at the discretion of institutions themselves and even individual professors, but it looks like for the time being the fees are here to stay.

What About a Refund on Room and Board?

Room and board, however, is a different story. Depending on where you study, you may be entitled to a pro-rated refund of your room and board for the remainder of the academic year.

It looks like the trend seems to be the larger institutions such as Harvard, Duke University, Amherst and Tufts are all offering refunds whilst smaller colleges and universities are not offering any.

Georgetown College in Kentucky, for instance, has released a statement saying it simply isn’t in a position financially to offer any rebates on housing or unused meal allowances.

Some students are, however, being allowed to stay in their campus accommodation where they have no other options to fall back on. These include overseas students who are currently unable to travel and those who have no alternative accommodation arrangements.

Our tip

We, of course, find ourselves in unusual times and those looking for an easy answer on university costs are in for a long search at the moment.

Universities and colleges are scrambling to come up with solutions and have largely been left to come up with them on their own.

Every institution has a different response to the crisis and the question “How much will I pay in 2020?” has no definitive answer.

Our best advice is to engage with the finance office at your university as soon as possible. If you’re in financial dire straits yourself, talk to the financial aid department.

While general university policy may not be to reduce fees because of coronavirus, they do have the power to adjust fees or devise new payment plans where you and your family are unable to meet commitments.

Many should also be due partial refunds of room and board too, just check with your campus connection.