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Ursula: Making college students pay full tuition during pandemic is deeply unethical

(Washington State University)

With the number of COVID-19 cases skyrocketing again around the country, college students are facing the prospect of taking most, if not all, of their fall classes online. During this time, many schools still plan to charge full tuition.

COVID-19 outbreak in fraternity houses on UW’s Greek Row

As of publishing, both the University of Washington and Washington State University are among schools still planning to have in-person classes. But an outbreak on UW’s Greek Row has already sickened nearly 120 students and shows how difficult it may be to contain the virus when everyone returns after the summer.

Every administrator knows the next school year will be filled with disruptions. A small outbreak on any campus will quickly become a big headache, which will force schools to shut down for cleaning, contact tracing, and quarantining those affected.

Getting an education will require flexibility and patience from everyone, including universities. I agree with parents and students who think it’s outrageous that WSU is not being more flexible with its requirement that freshmen live on campus.

This week, WSU sent out an email saying that students will not get their money back, even if they’re asked to vacate early in the semester because of COVID-19.

“It’s insane,” said Debbie Custer, whose daughter Ella is an incoming freshman. “We have to pay for her dorm room and her meal plan, up-front, which is $13,000 — it’s crazy!”

Custer’s planning to file a petition to get the first-year live-in requirement waived. But she admits they may be forced to consider other out-of-state universities that are offering scholarships and more flexibility.

“It’s like gambling,” she said. “My daughter already found out that all her classes this semester will be online, yet we’re being forced to pay for her dorm and food.”

Because of the virus, she will also have to be in a single room, which comes with a higher price tag.

WSU spokesman Phil Weiler tells the Moscow-Pullman Daily News that he understands the addendum could put parents and students in a difficult position. But he says it’s needed for the university to be able to continue to provide basic services. He estimates WSU will lose about $20 million in revenues from its housing services after reducing the number of students on campus.

Higher education implementing protocols to return to in-person instruction

That being so, students and parents don’t feel like that should be their problem, and they’re right. WSU student Cynthia Tan launched a petition challenging the school’s no-refund policy on housing. She calls it unethical. The petition already gathered nearly 5,000 signatures.

Other students at the UW, Seattle University, and Cornish College have also started petitions asking for partial tuition refunds after having to switch to all-online classes last spring. As the parent of a college student, it’s borderline criminal that we have to continue paying full freight when my son is not in class and not getting the full college experience.

At the very least, we should not have to pay the ludicrous out-of-state fee when our son is doing his class work remotely, from his childhood bedroom. If his campus is shut down again for COVID-19, like many other parents, we will be considering other much cheaper options.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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