During the pandemic, students are not getting the education they paid for

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to the writing or editing of articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Shawn Tran is a recent graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in public health. He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.

When you buy a product that does not match its description, what do you do? The logical thing to do is to return the product and get your money back. But some things are hard to repay. Tuition is one of them.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have alternated between in-person and remote learning. Despite this back and forth between online and in-person education, one thing remains unchanged: cost.

Students pay the price of in-person training for online training. Colleges charge mandatory transportation and campus fees even if the students are not even on campus.

When students paid their tuition for the 2019-2020 school year, they were paying for an academic year of an interactive and immersive on-campus student experience. This is the product we paid for. Midway through the product lifecycle, schools announced that in-person classes would be suspended.

We spent the remaining half of the school year learning virtually. The product has only served half of its life cycle, but there have been no refunds or refunds. Some schools make exceptions, offering full or partial refunds to students who withdraw before the withdrawal deadline. But most schools do not offer refunds after the fifth week of classes.

Students are once again exploited by colleges. Many students returned to the classroom in person last September. But after just half a school year of in-person learning, schools are returning to online learning. Some colleges are returning to temporary online instruction.

For example, the University of California, Berkeley begins the semester with a two-step process, with most classes offered entirely remotely for the first two weeks and then shifting entirely in-person. Yet that is not what students pay. And yet, colleges do nothing to make up for those two weeks of wasted campus and transportation fees.

Tuition fees are already expensive. Two-thirds of developed countries offer free or low-cost university to their citizens. The United States is not one of these countries. In the United States, for the 2021-22 academic year, the average cost of tuition and fees for a four-year private college is $38,070. Notably, for public colleges, the cost of attendance varies by residency, but in-state tuition and fees for 2021-22 at public four-year schools averaged $10,740. Out-of-state tuition and fees averaged $27,560. Costs are even higher when considering housing and meals, books and supplies, health insurance, personal expenses, food and transportation.

A large portion of college tuition is spent on academic support, student services, and ancillary businesses. Academic support provides libraries, museums, galleries, computer labs, and other educational materials for students. Student services cover expenses for student organizations, career counselling, student newspapers, and other activities that contribute to student well-being. Ancillary businesses are non-academic staff and services such as dormitories, canteens, football stadiums and swimming pools. If students attend classes virtually from home, even if only for two weeks, they cannot fully utilize the services they pay for.

A few years ago, top colleges were embroiled in a college admissions bribery scandal. More recently, a number of elite colleges have been accused of limiting financial aid. These incidents cast doubt on the ethics of our higher education system. Schools charge students exorbitant tuition but offer no refunds even when students don’t get what was promised – in-person learning, campus access and, most importantly, support.

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