All of the sudden, Shannon Tremblay’s classes at Des Moines Area Community Colleges are going online as the coronavirus pandemic grips the U.S., and the end date for that virtual schooling is uncertain.
All sorts of students like Tremblay will have to adjust as their colleges turn to distance learning, but online education is tougher for Tremblay. She’s a dental hygiene student and clinic days are part of her curriculum.Show Full Article
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“It is upsetting that we are going online but I understand why my college is taking precautions and I respect their decision for trying to keep everyone safe,” Tremblay, 24, said, noting that studying dental hygiene means getting very close to patients, though students do wear protective gear.
The status of those clinic days are now unclear and Tremblay’s professors are figuring out how to administer tests.
Tremblay and classmates have been wondering if they will get some tuition money back. “I believe we should, but it hasn’t been talked about yet!” Tremblay told MarketWatch.
She’s not alone.
Dozens of colleges and universities have shifted to online classes for the rest of the semester — and some have asked students to vacate dorms — to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Students like Tremblay might feel that virtual learning pales in comparison to an in-person class, but experts says they shouldn’t count on getting a tuition discount just because they’re being forced out of classrooms.
“ ‘A lot of colleges simply can’t afford to give [tuition] refunds.’ ”— Robert Kelchen, a professor at Seton Hall University
“A lot of colleges simply can’t afford to give [tuition] refunds,” said Robert Kelchen, a Seton Hall University professor who studies financial access to higher education. “They don’t have the extra money to do that when they are still paying their employees.”
COVID-19 had infected 137,066 people globally and killed more than 5,069 as of Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Some 68,000 people have recovered globally. The U.S. Had over 1,300 confirmed coronavirus cases and 40 deaths as of Friday.
The World Health Organization officially this week declared that the novel coronavirus is a pandemic.
As public health officials advise Americans to embrace social distancing measuresschools are advising professors to make use of video-conferencing technology from companies like Zoom ZM, -1.82% to conduct lectures in lieu of in-person classes.
Some schools have taken things a step further and asked students to vacate their dorms ahead of spring break. Many schools in the densely-populated Northeast are taking these measures, including Harvard University, Tufts University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Suffolk University and Smith College, among others.Some schools are partially refunding room and board
Harvard, Smith, Tufts and Duke University in North Carolina say they’ll refund students for unused room and board on a pro-rated basis. Harvard officials have told students the school will help those with financial buy bus, train and plane tickets home.
Schools offering pro-rated refunds have also said they will work with students who want to remain on campus, such as students who don’t have adequate housing elsewhere or international students who hail from a country where the virus is more prevalent.
Some Harvard alumni are reportedly offering to host students who need to leave campus by March 15 and need temporary housing or storage.
Graduates of other schools, including Smith College, are signing up to make the same quick arrangements for students.
Room and board is no small tab. A student at a four-year in-state school will pay an average of $11,510 in room and board during the 2019-20 school year, according to the College Board. Students at a private four-year school pay $12,990 on average, the organization said.But some schools are not going to reduce tuition
Tuition is generally more expensive than room and board. It’s an average of $10,440 per year at a four-year public school for in-state students for the 2019-20 school year, according to the College Board. Out-of-state students at a public university pay an average of $26,820. Students at a private four-year school pay an average tuition of $36,880.
Some schools are explicitly saying they will not give any discounts on tuition because of the shift to online classes. Harvard and Tufts will not be reducing tuition costs for the spring semester, representatives for the schools confirmed to MarketWatch.
Other schools did not respond to MarketWatch questions about refund policies on room and board, or tuition. They include the University of Washington, Princeton University and Northeastern University, Stanford University, Amherst College, Grinnell College, Bowdoin College and Tremblay’s school, Des Moines Area Community College.
Cornell University said it would give a rebate on housing and dining to on-campus students who were leaving campus. Tuition on physical education classes that haven’t started, like golf and sailing, will be completely refunded, Cornell said.
At Des Moines Area Community College, Tremblay’s school, MD Isley, vice president of academic affairs, said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of tuition discounts at the school, which has 25,000 degree-seeking students. Any decisions on discounts will be made on a case-by-case basis and only after school officials work with students to see if they can accommodate them in a different way first, Isley said. That could include things like course extensions or curriculum modification.
“Nothing is really off the table. There are just so many unknowns,” Isley said.
The school will ensure that students who have hands-on learning requirements, like Tremblay, ultimately get the experience they need, he added.
At other schools, tuition discounts “will be extremely unlikely for most classes,” according to Kelchen. That’s because most class work can be done remotely, he said. Majors with hands-on requirements, like a theater major or a science major with a lab component, might just end up with an incomplete grade for the semester, he said.
Schools have endowments, but Kelchen said many aren’t vast piggy banks. “A substantial portion of the endowment is restricted and can’t be used for general funds,” he said.
Other higher education experts worry the outbreak could cause a wave of future school closures in the years to come, if COVID-19 depresses enrollment and recruitment.
Tuition discounts could create problems for schools, but they could also raise issues for low-income students, said Carrie Welton, a consultant at Believe in Students, a nonprofit organization helping students with emergency financial aid.
Tuition discounts could jeopardize students’ future eligibility for financial aid or Pell Grants — grants for low-income students — because the discount could count as income for the student, she noted.
“ ‘[Tuition discounts] could potentially create more problems than solutions depending on a student’s financial situation.’ ”— Carrie Welton, consultant at Believe in Students
“It could potentially create more problems than solutions depending on a student’s financial situation,” Welton said, later adding, “Changes that could affect a student’s award package or tuition assistance could complicate eligibility for public benefits,” including food stamps.
Approximately 2 million college students were eligible for food stamp assistance last year, according a report from the Government Accountability Office, a federal government watchdog agency. The same report concluded that the number of students struggling to feed themselves on campus could range between 9% and 50%.‘The questions are endless’
“Really, the questions are endless and that goes back to the fact that we need a comprehensive response from the Department of Education and [Secretary] Betsy DeVos as well,” said Cody Hounanian, program director of Student Debt Crisis, an advocacy group for student loan borrowers.
On Tuesday, more than 30 Democratic Senators sent DeVos a letter pressing for specifics on the department’s response to the fast-moving on-campus closures. Among other questions, the senators said they wanted to know how department officials will ensure students are getting “regular and substantive interaction” with their teachers.
“As schools prepare to make these difficult decisions, they are faced with many legal and practical uncertainties and are looking for clear guidance and direction from the Department,” the letter stated.
The Education Department has been working on guidance to schools about testing, student privacy, and instruction for students with disabilities amid the coronavirus outbreak, a spokeswoman said.
“If a school continues to offer instruction to students, but requires students to leave their on-campus housing facilities, it is the responsibility of the school to determine how to make appropriate refunds to students for housing or meal services not provided,” the spokeswoman said.
The Department of Education last week issued guidance to schools on a range of coronavirus-related topics.
“ ‘For many institutions, online education will provide a viable option for continuing to teach students through COVID-19-related interruptions’ ”— Department of Education guidance
“For many institutions, online education will provide a viable option for continuing to teach students through COVID-19-related interruptions,” the guidance said.
Some students don’t want it to come to that point.
A Change.Org petition drafted by Vassar College students advocating for keeping the school open noted the financial impact forcing students to move out could cause. “For low-income students, going home early means much more than just losing access to classroom time,” Vassar students Emma Frazier and Alice Woo wrote in the petition.
“It also may mean losing housing, food, travel expenses, and the guaranteed income of work-study, which may be thousands of dollars. These economic impacts will not be felt equally among students.” Vassar College announced it would use online classes through April 10, and keep re-assessing whether to further extend online classes.
A similar petition created by a group of students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut said the school should stay open. But if it had to close, the student petition said the school should cover certain expenses including “compensation for the lower market value of online schooling.”
Wesleyan University announced Wednesday it was suspending in-person classes and asking students to leave campus by March 23 for the remainder of the semester. The school said it would give a pro-rated refund on room and board, but the announcement did not address pay for online classes.
“We’re committed to completing all courses taking place this semester in a distance learning format,” a Wesleyan University spokeswoman told MarketWatch. As for the petition, she added, “please know that this difficult decision was made after considering all possible alternatives. ... We feel it is necessary to protect the well-being of our campus community. We will continue to provide housing and support for students who are housing insecure or are unable to return home, and we’ll continue to monitor the situation.”
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