OPINION: A virtual semester is not worth full tuition

Lots of trees turning orange stand on a quad.
Emma Mansour SC ’24 argues that colleges should not charge full tuiton for a semester of online learning. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

When I committed to college, I was ecstatic. Not because of all the classes I would get to take — though I was looking forward to that too — but because college was supposed to be the best years of my life. I pictured spending afternoons sitting in the courtyards at Scripps College, going out on weekends, spending the next morning going over the night with my friends and living on my own in a really cool part of the country.

Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.

The magnitude and timeframe of COVID-19 was unpredictable, and the 5Cs aren’t at fault for having to close and hold a virtual semester. I think their (mostly) early decision-making and attempts to retain some aspects of college, like orientation and clubs, are admirable. The one thing that doesn’t sit well with me is that students are still expected to pay full tuition despite the fact that we’re not exactly attending college. These recent circumstances have forced many people, myself included, to reevaluate what college means.

Most people aren’t going to college purely for education. We’re not paying a ridiculously high price just to take a few classes. We’re paying to take classes, find new friends, live in a new place, have access to campus resources and get the full college experience. We’re paying for the vision of college that we’ve had in our head since freshman year of high school.

Though some of these things can be attempted via Zoom, it is far more difficult to form personal connections and a sense of community through a screen than it is in person. For some, this sense of a tight community and close connection to teachers and peers is the crux of being a student at 5Cs — and now, the ability to create and foster these relationships is very much limited.

On top of the lack of an experience we dreamed of, the classes aren’t as good. It’s really hard to learn over Zoom; many students and teachers are struggling to adjust. I am almost positive that I will receive a lesser education this semester, and the price of that education should be reflective of that. 

When we were first told that school would be held via Zoom, students were given a few options, depending on their specific school. At Scripps, we could defer a semester, defer a year, enroll normally or take up to two individual classes for a reduced price. Compared to other schools, both among the 5Cs and across the country, Scripps provided multiple generous options. 

But the options weren’t great considering our current circumstances. Gap years and semester opportunities lose their allure considering travel restrictions and the unavailability of programs, and taking fewer courses seems great until you’re overloaded with classes during other semesters. 

We were left with less-than-stellar options. Our schools knew that, and the options they gave us, while options nonetheless, seemed to ultimately be a way to appease us so that we didn’t get too mad about paying full tuition. 

All this being said, school administrations aren’t completely at fault when it comes to charging full tuition. Schools are ultimately a business and need the money to function. We can’t expect the colleges to carry on as usual but also not pay the price that allows them to operate. On a moral principle, there is a very clear decision: reduce tuition to reflect the drastic change in experience. However, factoring in the cost of maintaining the institution leaves little room for morality.

Conclusion: this situation sucks for all those who are involved. No one is immune to the effects of COVID-19, and college students and colleges themselves are being hit hard. No matter how difficult it may be to run a school on reduced tuition, charging students full tuition is wrong and completely unfair. Zoom class and meetings are not worth $7,500, and schools know this.

Emma Mansour SC ’24 is from Wilmette, Illinois. She enjoys spending time with friends, watching movies, exploring California and writing (obviously).

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