Should Colleges Charge Full Tuition for Online Semesters?

As students are preparing to return to colleges and universities across the world, most are faced with another harsh reality of the pandemic: Campuses are closed, classes are online, and tuition is unchanged.

I’ve heard about this, and I assumed that colleges at least weren’t charging room and board. I mean, how could they–if a student isn’t living on campus, they shouldn’t be charged as if they were living on campus, right? Yet it appears that isn’t the case for many colleges (CNN link). That’s a cost of around $10,000 a year for many students–a cost for which they don’t receive any benefits.

That, to me, is a no-brainer. More debatable is the tuition itself. If you signed up to attend college on a campus, you were probably expecting the full experience when you committed: Part of it is the education itself and the eventual diploma, but part of it is the location, the activities, the sports, the socializing, etc. The colleges are cutting significant parts of the collegiate experience without decreasing tuition.

Imagine if you bought a board game from me and instead of shipping you a copy, I sent you a link to the digital version. That would be a problem, right?

Granted, I think students do have the option of skipping a year and returning in 2021 when hopefully they can live on campus. But would you actually do that? You’re delaying your future career by a year, and unless all of your friends did the same thing, you’d be stuck a year behind them too.

I also understand that college is a business (at least, in the US). Universities need money to operate. But it truly strikes me as odd that they would charge the same tuition for a year of Zoom classes as they would for a regular year.

That’s just my opinion. What do you think? What would you do if you were a student faced with this dilemma?

6 thoughts on “Should Colleges Charge Full Tuition for Online Semesters?”

  1. I guess here is the question that should be looked at then what is the true value difference between the in person vs online for earning the degree. Do schools have a track record of charging less per hour for an online course vs coming to the course in person? When I was in college (2001-2005) there was no such price difference. My kids are still 7 years away from it so I haven’t researched modern prices. I do believe there should be a difference in price but schools have never adjusted for this. From their perspective you are paying x amount for the degree in the end. If the schools offered a discount for school online they would be faced with the dilemma of having to then offer said degree for less money to those willing to stay at home vs coming to the class in person. Then parents would seriously consider I can keep my child home, save x amount of money, and be with them longer vs sending them to the university for the experience. Then universities would then be making x less per student for the same paper that they charged for. Does that lower the value of the degree at that point? Unfortunately colleges are a business vs just higher education and I don’t see them giving up that x amount easily. But I am for the discount my self personally.

    • Here here! Colleges and Universities seem to expend massive energy building up an endowment, presumably for this type of situation–a major, unforeseen need for funding that can keep their institution afloat. It seems like they have their own personal relief funds to draw from.

      Admittedly, I haven’t researched this, so I understand that it’s potentially more complex than I’m crediting. However, from my outsider’s perspective, I’ve always viewed endowments as something colleges and universities like to grow and grow, primarily just for the sake of being able to boast about their size. I’d love to see them put their money to work–use the endowments to help out in many ways, across the board, in this time of need.

  2. Charging for room & board when students can not use the dorm and cafeteria is stealing. You are charging for goods/services and not providing them.

    Tuition for classes is a little more nuanced since you are receiving instruction. I can see the rationale for charging full price for instruction and credit hours.

    If I was a freshman, then I’d attend community college (virtually) for a year or two and save some money on tuition on basic courses. I’d also the avoid room & board charges that way.

    If I was a sophomore/junior/senior, then I’d consider taking a year off. Options would include: volunteer locally for 40+ hours a week, open and run an online business of some kind to perhaps never to return to college, study abroad or attend college remotely and live off campus to avoid Room & Board charges. I wouldn’t worry about falling behind as much as I’d worry about not getting the on campus college experience. So much learning and growth happen outside the classroom. In the end – I would likely do a lot of volunteer work – and work on an online business perhaps never to return to campus.

  3. I have 2 college students who are both attending universities during this Covid-19 pandemic. I have a freshman attending a large university, Auburn and a senior attending smaller university- Jacksonville State both are located in Alabama. Our kids worked hard in high school and were fortunate to have full tuition for all 4 years. Our oldest is in Nursing and lives off campus. While her tuition is covered, the miscellaneous fees (think athletic fees, campus fees etc) are not covered. Our son at Auburn is living on campus and has to pay for campus housing and meals plus with it being a larger school there are larger miscellaneous fees.

    We help both of them quite a bit, but they have paid for most of their expenses/housing with student loans plus they have also earned other non-tuition scholarships.

    The first year my daughter attended in fall 2017 she had an online class and we were required to “pay the difference” between the cost of the online class and what was covered by the full tuition. I was not happy as full tuition should be full tuition- but like everything, if you don’t know someone- your phone calls and complaints fall on deaf ears. So we just paid the fee.

    This year however, she has fewer classes because of the way the nursing program works, and I believe all fees have been covered with the tuition scholarship. Online is not easy, especially with the necessary objectives required for nursing school. It’s hard on the students, the faculty and the whole system.

    My son has some online classes, and some blended classes this first semester, and he is living in a residence hall. He has a roommate from Illinois who chose to not come to Auburn as his classes were online, the others are also out of state but have chosen to come to the university. While online classes are one thing, I think college is a whole experience, and so much more than just class and homework. Its being away from mom and dad, and making choices for yourself- and doing the occasional load of laundry! Universities are doing the best they can to relate to the students, their families and still abide by state guidelines for Covid-19. I don’t think universities can afford to waive any fees during this pandemic, because they like us have bills to pay, not to mention all the employees that the universities employ- from maintenance to cooks and professors and support staff. If they laid off some of those workers, then those workers can’t pay their bills and so on. Its a vicious cycle. I also feel like if tuition was lowered for this year, then it would be raised a good bit more the following year to make up any financial losses the university has for the 2020-2021 school year. College is definitely an experience, and while fees are staying the same, I’m glad they are able to attend their universities, even if some classes are online- because its the experiences that they’ll truly remember- more than any fees.

    Just played Pendulum tonight- it took some time getting the mechanics, but we thoroughly enjoyed the game as well as my personal favorite Viticulture, and of course Wingspan is another in our top list of games. Former-St. Louisian here, grew up right near your headquarters on Baur Blvd- my dad worked for GE when I was a kid- at the corner of Baur and I think its Lackland- the St. Louis question.. I went to Pattonville..ha ha.. When I saw awhile back that Stonemaier was on Baur Blvd.. I said wow! It sure is a small world!

    • Thanks for your detailed response, Kristen! I agree that universities have bills to pay (including to their employees)…I guess I wonder why they’re not using their endowments for that (though perhaps not all universities have endowments). I’m glad your kids are staying healthy, and it’s neat to hear that you’re originally from St. Louis and that you enjoyed your first play of Pendulum!


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