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UCLA must adjust tuition, student fees to match the quality of online instruction

With thousands of UCLA undergraduates paying out-of-state prices for an online education at home, the University of Califonia must adjust tuition fees to reflect its students’ new realities. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Elaine Chen

April 9, 2020 8:00 p.m.

Virtual spring quarter has officially begun, robbing students of an in-person college experience. But if that weren’t enough, it’s robbing them of their tuition money as well.

Shortly following the decision to move classes online, UCLA announced that students were not going to receive a reduction in campus tuition and fees. The decision quickly led to backlash from the community, including an online petition with more than 7,600 signatures calling for lower spring tuition at schools affected by COVID-19.

In the midst of a quickly escalating and unprecedented global pandemic, it’s understandable that universities struggled to make last-minute decisions in order to adjust. After all, students were on the brink of taking their final exams just before it was abruptly announced that instruction for the rest of winter quarter would be conducted remotely.

But now that the new normal is here, continuing to milk students for unadjusted tuition costs isn’t a fair solution.

The UC still has a chance to reduce tuition costs for spring quarter. But if it drops the ball this time around, it at least needs to start planning for the tuition reductions that should come in the case of a virtual future. And while UCLA may be powerless in its ability to reduce UC tuition costs, it does have jurisdiction over student fees – more specifically, the power to adjust them accordingly.

In the meantime, students will still have to pay their dues in return for just a fraction of what their education is really worth.

Kevin Chen, a third-year applied mathematics student, said a large proportion of students will be paying for on-campus services they won’t have access to.

“We’re losing our opportunity to have in-person peer discussions, access to gyms, study spots on campus, (Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center) resources and in-person opportunities for office hours,” Chen said. “We’re also losing access to a lot of on-campus events that aren’t going to be virtual this quarter, so I think that (the UC) should really reconsider their spring tuition policy.”

Chen is an international student and, like others, is still obligated to pay the full annual cost of tuition for nonresident students, which equates to roughly $43,000.

A UC education has been reduced to URL links and video meetings. And this shift is especially difficult for out-of-state and international students, who are now paying tens of thousands more dollars to click on the same hyperlinks as their peers.

An emailed statement from UC spokesperson Sarah McBride stated that many of the fees that students are paying for will be covering costs such as campus infrastructure maintenance.

But despite the UC’s claims, many campus facilities have closed in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In UCLA’s case, this includes Ackerman Union and recreational facilities – charges for both of which are still reflected on BruinBill.

And with California’s restrictive stay-at-home orders in place, it’s safe to say that students still in the Westwood area won’t be trying to go out and get their money’s worth of student services.

Robert Watson, a fourth-year political science student and president of the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council, said he understands why students are upset about the decision to keep spring quarter tuition as is.

“Most of the services that I’d be offered or provided, I’m not getting access to, and that can be upsetting,” said Watson. “This (decision) doesn’t come across as supportive to students who are going through financial hardships right now as a result of the pandemic as well.”

Even if spring quarter’s tuition money is beyond the point of no return, nor refund, the UC still faces the possibility of conducting future quarters remotely. And if worst truly does come to worst, students deserve more than a simple deadline extension to pay up.

The official statement from the University of California Office of the President mentioned that it is too early to predict whether action needs to be taken by the UC after summer session ends.

However, the signs are pointing to a quarantine that may be extended indefinitely: Summer session A, which is scheduled to end Aug. 28, is going to be held remotely, and experts have warned that the true statistic of COVID-19 cases in California may be much higher than official numbers.

If there’s anything to be taken away from the last week of winter quarter, it’s that unforeseen circumstances can lead major judgment calls with little time to adjust. Unfortunately, the UC doesn’t always have good judgment.

Granted, the board of regents attempted to show its support for students facing financial difficulties when it announced its recent decision to postpone a vote that could have increased tuition over the next few years. But the glaring issue of high tuition for an online education is rearing its ugly head, and the UC still has a chance to make things right.

Rather than continuing to monitor the situation until it becomes too late to react properly again, the UC should use this head start to make the necessary adjustments.

Online classes are already bad enough without forcing students to pay for them by the thousands.

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Elaine Chen
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