Refunding Tuition: Is Online College Not Worth Full Price?

Refunding Tuition: Is Online College Not Worth Full Price?

Colleges around the country closed their campuses in March, moving thousands of college students home, and their classes online. As a result, colleges and universities credited accounts for room and board fees… but they are not refunding tuition.

If you visit any parent or student social media platform right now, you’ll see lots of angry postings about how colleges will not refund tuition, as well as “on campus” fees like gym or library fees. And students are protesting. As reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Around the country, students at dozens of colleges, from Columbia to the University of California, Northwestern, and the University of Florida, to local colleges including Temple and Drexel, are launching change.org petitions, seeking refunds. Watkins and her roommate started one that has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

Charging full tuition for online classes? No, say some students, despite the coronavirus, The Philadelphia Inquirer

The cost of university tuition isn’t minor. And during the coronavirus pandemic, the news of a possible recession outpaces higher education stories. Money is a worry for all families right now. So what is the answer to the question of “is refunding tuition fair”?

Is Online Worth Full Price?

So is logging in from home and watching a video conference with your professor not “real college”? Is it not worth the same price as a lecture hall class? And what about parents paying out-of-state rates? Should they get part of their higher tuition back if their student isn’t, in fact, out-of-state?

I don’t have answers to these questions, and I think they’re very individual. In fact, they lead to more questions.

If online instruction is “cheaper” than an on-campus college experience, does that discount also apply to the college’s reputation? Will all of our students’ educations not be worthwhile if they’re online due to health and safety reasons?

If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home during this pandemic, should you also be paid less? Does your work lose clarity or professionalism by being done on your couch or kitchen counter?

There’s plenty of press about how parents are finding out how K-12 instruction is incredibly difficult, and how teachers are worth every penny. Why doesn’t that same rhetoric apply to college professors? Is what they do not as difficult or meaningful?

This Is One Opinion

I am a parent who is paying university tuition for my daughter this spring myself. I have taught at the university level and worked in higher education too. And I have no issues paying the same amount, and in some cases, I would pay more.

Professors were told to recreate their entire lesson plans and teaching styles to suit an online environment within a matter of days, and to do it with very little support. Most have done so, and done it well.

My daughter has learned how to manage her time, stress, and projects while also grieving her life at college. She’ll be better at change and keeping momentum as an adult. I’m not happy for the reasons she’s learned these lessons, but I’m glad for the real world and life experiences. We’ve all managed with canceled plans and have said “life isn’t fair” about a hundred times a day in the last five weeks.

I don’t want her university to close. I don’t want her degree to be worth less. Her professors are valuable and worth their pay. Refunding tuition takes needed funds and salaries away from them. I am relieved to have gotten some of her spring room and board returned, as well as part of her studio fee.

I would gladly send some of that money to her professors.


Author Jeff Selingo polled his followers about this, and also wrote an article about the heartache of a changed fall semester. It’s worth a read. His non-scientific poll findings?

Visit our special coronavirus article page.

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