Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
COVID-19, aside from ravaging the country and destroying millions of people’s livelihoods, has put colleges and universities nationwide in a uniquely difficult position. The University of Maryland has not been spared from this wide array of challenges: About 92 percent of classes are at least partially online, campus workers continue to lack many of the resources they need to stay safe, dorms are borderline ghost towns and access to on-campus facilities such as dining halls, gyms and libraries is limited.
As an out-of-state student, I am paying $19,873.50 in tuition this semester, yet all of my courses are entirely online. Like many other students, I’ve been left wondering how this semester is so overpriced. University President Darryll Pines, when confronted about these sky-high fees during a virtual town hall, attempted to assuage students’ concerns. And while he tried to provide some reassurance, he ended up leaving viewers with many more questions.
Pines promised “the quality of the education that you’re going to see, whether it is in-person or online, it’s going to be at a high quality.”
While I have complete faith in our professors to do the best that they can considering the circumstances, it’s unreasonable to expect them to provide an online education of the same quality as an in-classroom experience. It’s virtually impossible to provoke dynamic conversations over a video call. The biggest reason people are willing to pay the exorbitant cost of college tuition is the quality of education that they receive. And without the same quality that students received in other semesters, it’s hard to justify charging the exact same amount.
To the university’s credit, some courses have received plenty of resources that will certainly help bring students’ experiences as close as possible to a normal semester, but the vast majority are being hung out to dry. For example, when confronted with the question of why tuition hasn’t been reduced, Pines rushed to draw attention to “a class in music where we shipped Steinway pianos to students who didn’t have a Steinway piano at home.”
The cost of shipping the pianos to students was covered by the company and it presumably took a great deal of coordination from the university to have them delivered, but only a small group of students are able to benefit from the company’s generosity and this university’s efforts. Meanwhile, Pines conveniently neglected to mention several more pressing issues of accessibility. For one, many low-income students are simply unable to afford decent internet access. So while some students are fortunate enough to get pianos that cost more than many cars, others are left with Zoom lectures and spotty Wi-Fi.
Aside from high tuition, the university is still requiring students to pay $977.50 in “mandatory fees” for various on-campus resources. Pines said the university would look into refunding the athletics fees, but that would only save full-time undergraduate students $199.50, leaving the rest intact. Students will continue to pay the same technology fee, student activities fee, recreation services fee and student facilities fee, among others. It’s unreasonable to force students to pay for campus services as if we were able to take full advantage of them. This is effectively a large-scale bait-and-switch scheme orchestrated by the university.
College, as we all know, is insanely expensive. Even without a pandemic, it’s hard to scrounge up the money to pay tuition. Students need relief now more than ever. Ideally, the school would reduce tuition to reflect the lower quality of instruction and financial hardship many students are currently facing. At the very minimum, all mandatory fees should be eliminated for this semester.
University officials have spent the past few months trying to appear on our side as we deal with this crisis. If they don’t take meaningful action, those words will ring hollow.
Josh Binderman is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.