Most U.S. universities are returning to online learning in their fall schedules as the coronavirus pandemic continues, and students are challenging paying full tuition.
Many universities are operating hybrid models — combining courses in person and courses online — while others are remaining online only for the 2020-2021 academic year.
As of July 29, 23.5% of nearly 3,000 U.S. universities and colleges are planning for fully in-person or primarily in-person classes, 14% are proposing hybrid models, and 30% are planning for a fully online or primarily online fall semester, according to data from The Chronicle of Higher Education and Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative.
The abrupt shift to virtual learning this spring proved to be a challenge for students, professors and faculty.
Many students protested the quality of online classes during the spring semester, noting difficulty in retaining information and a lack of fair access in areas where internet connections are not reliable or high-speed.
Students have asked universities for reduced tuition in exchange for online courses.
“Universities should not be allowed to charge students full price for remote learning!” tweeted Khalib Owen, a junior at the University of the Arts in Center City, Philadelphia.
UNIVERSITIES SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO CHARGE STUDENTS FULL PRICE FOR REMOTE LEARNING !!!!!!!— Godiva ☭ (@leebyyy) June 30, 2020
Owen’s tweet garnered over 1 million likes and over 240,000 retweets, with thousands of students sharing their viewpoints in the comment section and some attaching petitions to lower tuition costs for their universities.
Meanwhile, Williams College announced a major tuition cut.
The president of Williams announced on the university website that it would reduce its comprehensive fee, which includes tuition, room and board, by 15% for the 2020-2021 academic year. This makes the 2020-2021 comprehensive, or published, fee $63,200, while the 2019-2020 comprehensive fee was $72,270.
“This reduction recognizes the fact that the pandemic and associated challenges are requiring us to cancel Winter Study as well as fall athletics competition and many student activities, among other opportunities that we usually encourage families to expect as part of their student’s education,” the letter said.
Princeton University also announced a 10% discount to tuition for all undergraduate students during 2020-2021, according to its website. The university said all undergraduate education would be fully remote for the fall semester on Aug. 7.
Both Williams and Princeton did not charge activities fees for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Georgetown University also announced a 10% reduction for students who are not invited to live on campus. Students invited back to campus will be charged the previously announced tuition for the fall, but housing and dining charges will be reduced by 20% “to count for the shorter length of the semester.”
John Hopkins University announced a 10% decrease for undergraduate tuition following a semester change to fully online classes.
Meanwhile, the University of Michigan, the University of Southern California and Northwestern University have hiked their tuition 1.9%, 3.4% and 3.5% respectively because of financial losses during the pandemic.
Students have disapproved of the increases and have sent the universities online petitions or open letters.
“Not only is @UMich demanding students pay full tuition for a semester that will be mainly remote, but they’ve also proposed a tuition hike. ... In what world is this giving “all individuals an equal opportunity to thrive” as @DrMarkSchlissel stated his mission was for DEI?” tweeted Ruqayya Ahmad, a master’s degree candidate at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
not only is @UMich demanding students pay full tuition for a semester that will be mainly remote, but they’ve also proposed a tuition hike... in what world is this giving “all individuals an equal opportunity to thrive” as @DrMarkSchlissel stated his mission was for DEI?— Ruqayya Ahmad (@ruqayyya) June 29, 2020
Graduate students at Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts & Sciences are also petitioning for rollbacks.
Some students have taken legal action.
Harvard University law student Abraham Barkhordar sued the university over tuition prices, as classes remain online for the fall semester.
“I decided to sue Harvard because while they did make some effort ... the first semester we were online to mitigate things, they just have not lowered tuition," he told ABC News in an interview.
WATCH: US Students File Lawsuits
Master’s candidates at New York University Stern School of Business are protesting a 3.5% tuition hike and are asking for a 5% to 10% reduction because of the shift to remote education.
Students are also considering taking off the fall semester if classes go remote.
In a survey by the Yale Daily News, 52.8% of respondents said they would “likely or definitely” take a leave of absence if the semester was fully online. Twenty-six percent said they would “likely or definitely” take a leave of absence if the semester was to follow a hybrid semester format.
“If fall is online I might have to take a semester off because I can’t do this again,” tweeted Grace Pauly, a junior at Florida State University.
If fall is online I might have to take a semester off cause I can’t do this again.— g baby (@gracempauly) July 6, 2020
Students abroad are also taking action, demanding refunds or reductions for the fall.
In South Korea, numerous universities filed a class action lawsuit against the Ministry of Education, demanding partial refunds because of learning disruptions during the pandemic.
The National University Student Council created a student group called the Movement for Tuition Refunds, where an estimated 3,500 students from 42 universities have participated in the lawsuit, according to local news sources.
After student protests and meetings with student leaders, Konkuk University, a private university in Seoul, became the first institution to enact a partial refund. The university agreed to an 8.3% cut in tuition for the fall semester, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
JeonBuk National University in Jeonju became the first national university to refund 10% of spring semester tuition, according to YTN. The Korean Council for University Education announced that almost 40% of universities in South Korea will partially refund tuition fees.
In the Philippines, the National Union of Students of the Philippines called for the Philippines Department of Education to reject tuition hike applications.
“But for the National Union of Students of the Philippines, the broadest and longest existing alliance of student councils in the country, no tuition and other fees increase will be reasonable while ordinary Filipinos are suffering from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” read a statement from the NUSP.
Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada, also drew disapproval from students because of its tuition hike, especially for international students.
International tuition for the engineering school rose by almost 13%, and international students explained they feel like “cash cows” because of the hike, according to CBC News.
Some universities have frozen tuition fees or have created COVID-19 relief funds and scholarships to assist with financial needs for students.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology is freezing tuition despite an earlier hike and is offering a $5,000 grant to all undergraduate students to offset their annual costs. All undergraduate students will also be offered at least one semester of a paid research, teaching or service opportunity, carrying a stipend of up to $1,900.
All Minnesota state colleges and universities said they would freeze tuition fees for fall, keeping rates at the same level charged for the previous fiscal year.
The University of Maryland also announced a freeze for tuition, room and board for the 2020-2021 academic year.
The College of William & Mary initially adopted a 3% tuition increase for incoming in-state undergraduates but rolled back on their decision and ensured that all tuition and mandatory fees stay flat.
Tufts University has a COVID-19 Emergency Fund of which dependent students can receive up to $1,000 and independent students $1,800.
Duke University announced three kinds of COVID-19 relief funds, with seed funding of $9 million from the university to provide assistance for members of the university and local communities.