Colleges and universities continue to struggle to adjust to the realities of an unending pandemic. First, it was the bungled switch to remote learning in the Spring semester that left some students with no choice but to sue their schools into refunding their remaining room and board costs. Throughout the summer, as remote learning continued, surveys affirmed that students wanted to see tuition prices reduced if classes are taught online. The schools weren't hearing it (except for a handful of historically Black colleges and universities). The fall semester has proven to be yet another test. Many schools committed to welcoming students on campus earlier this summer, an ambitious goal even at the time. But as COVID-19 cases spiked throughout the country, many schools changed their minds.
According to Inside Higher Ed, hundreds of schools are doing a U-turn on their plans to welcome students to campus in the fall. Institutions are either delaying the start of the semester, moving forward with a fully virtual schedule, or welcoming limited numbers of students to campus. Tuition costs, however, remain largely unaddressed.
The pivots have been mostly announced in late July and early August. The return to campus announcements were met with skepticism and the subsequent liability waivers students were required to sign added to the apprehension.
For the schools that reconsidered, tuition revisions seem modest: the University of Pennsylvania will remain closed this fall and will roll back the nearly 4% tuition increase it had intended. It also reduced its "general fee" by 10% (the fee funds a wide variety of services and resources, including counseling and wellness, multicultural resource centers, student activities, recreation and fitness, career services, learning support). Housing and dining fees will also be refunded or credited.
At Harvard University, 20% of first-year students deferred while the school's anticipated 40% of students returning to campus dropped to just 25%. The school still hopes to welcome less than half of the student body back to campus, but for those attending class online or in-person, tuition remains the same.
Students on TikTok are joking about the bait and switch that got them to enroll in classes and pay full tuition, only to get another semester of online classes with no discount. In conjunction, all these measures are making students feel like schools are prioritizing money at the cost of students' health and education. First, their refusal to reduce tuition for virtual teaching, then their insistence on opening campuses in the fall (despite early predictions saying a Fall spike was inevitable), then rolling back those plans while sometimes pushing tuition bumps, and once again, refusing refunds for room and board.