In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many features of a college experience have been removed or altered in non-beneficial ways, from clubs and group activities being canceled to classes moving online. While all of this is being done for the safety of the community, and no one could really argue otherwise, the quality of our complete college experience has undoubtedly dropped significantly. Furthermore, the financial state of many students has also suffered dramatically due to many jobs being cut and economic uncertainty rampant across the country. With both of these factors in mind, Lawrence University has nevertheless raised tuition by 3.5 percent, in a move that, while difficult to swallow, is something that must be looked at carefully.
A major concern is whether Lawrence students are actually receiving what they are paying for. Is the cost of remote learning comparable to the cost of other online university programs? Spending only a few minutes online, it’s easy to find numerous schools with established online programs, all of them costing far less than the in-person alternatives. Some cost comparisons showed up to a 50 percent decrease in tuition cost for the online program compared to the in-person ones. So, if there are schools out there with established online programs that cost much less than many schools during COVID-19, it would seemingly make sense to go the cheaper route.
However, our schools need to make money. While universities are institutions of education, they are also required to generate funds, and to have multitudes of students leaving, even for just a term, is financially precarious. To discourage this mass exodus of students, schools across the country have complicated credit transfer processes and even requirements for how much time students must spend on campus. Even if a student were to take some time off and pursue the more financially viable remote course, it isn’t guaranteed that this could contribute to their degree when things “return to normal.”
In regard to Lawrence specifically, students are not only paying more than other online programs but also far more than the previous year’s in-person tuition. Lawrence, in particular, is a university which is founded on the concept of shared community — the living and learning environment and close-knit classes where every student knows the professor. Remote learning is not conducive to this environment, causing professors to have to rapidly adapt their curriculum to be accessible in-person, online or even both. The loss of the true value of a Lawrence education and professors’ increased efforts are left unaccounted for and uncompensated.
While none of this is good for the students, we must also keep in mind the question of what else the university can really do. Lawrence, along with every other school, is bleeding cash just to try and stay afloat. As a non-profit, the prices they set are more or less the baseline of what they can afford — at least theoretically. It is also important to keep in mind that the university acts as a financial and social safety net for hundreds of faculty and staff. With reduced funding, Lawrence would consequently reduce its ability to employ; all of those employees and their families would then lose their paychecks and their benefits.
If individual schools cannot financially assist their students, then they could at least support their students in other ways that could help with the increased financial burden. One such example would be partnering with smaller community colleges so that students could take less expensive online courses and still have it count toward their desired degree program. Another possibility would be looking for other means of acquiring money other than from the students or possibly tapping into the endowments that we have acquired over the years.
Thinking beyond individual school assistance, the government itself could have looked at supporting college students, for many students didn’t even qualify to receive a stimulus check from the federal government near the beginning of the pandemic. Not only is it becoming expected for students to take on the burden of massive student loans, they aren’t even supported when the world enters a global pandemic. Really, how are we supposed to be able to afford this?
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