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The Quad: Tuition a la Zoom may not be worth out-of-state student fees

With virtually all of UCLA’s classes occurring remotely for spring quarter, some out-state-students are questioning if they should still have to pay the nonresident rates to take online classes. (Keaton Larson/Daily Bruin)

By Maya Harris

April 21, 2020 5:47 p.m.

Spring quarter is well underway, and many of us are still coming to terms with the new reality of online midterms, Zoom malfunctions and a short supply of personal space – and toilet paper.

COVID-19 has drastically changed the educational experience of UCLA students with clubs, jobs, office hours and lectures now compressed into the flat universe of the computer screen. The transition to online classes at UCLA due to safer-at-home orders has raised concerns about the cost of tuition, particularly for out-of-state and international students whose tuition and fees amount to over $15,000 for spring quarter alone compared to the in-state price of around $5,350. Given these changes, should they still be expected to pay the full price of tuition?

Valerie Fletcher, a third-year political science student and an out-of-state student, expressed frustration with the amount she is paying given the compromised quality of her education and experience under the current circumstances.

“I think it’s outrageous that they’re still making us pay $15,000 a quarter for classes that are honestly horrible,” Fletcher said. “Zoom freezes, people aren’t muted, people are laughing – it’s super distracting. $15,000 for an online education feels like I’m getting robbed.”

UCLA has stated that campus tuition and fees will not change during online instruction despite students’ lack of access to some on-campus activities and resources. UC spokesperson Sarah McBride said in an email statement that these fees are needed to cover the costs of delivering instruction online and providing remote students services such as registration, financial aid and academic advising.

However, some students like Fletcher question the continuation of these fees given their lack of access to many of the campus resources that they originally signed up to pay for.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t get that fee back since none of us are on campus,” Fletcher said.

Yanqin Li, a second-year psychology student and an international student from China, also expressed disappointment regarding the opportunities she is missing due to the current situation.

“I’m not currently in any clubs, and I was thinking maybe I should check out this consulting club or this writing club,” she said. “I also wanted to do individual study with one of the faculty here on campus. Now I cannot check out clubs anymore, and as for the individual studies, I’ll have to talk to faculty via email, which will be a little awkward and inconvenient.”

As students express concern over these lost opportunities, the current situation has also created difficulties for the University of California, which currently faces increased costs due to COVID-19 from both unexpected expenses and lost revenue.

In a letter sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom on April 15, UC president Janet Napolitano stated that unanticipated costs totaled $558 million for March alone.

In addition, the UC chancellors and Napolitano announced April 2 that there would be no layoffs for career employees through the remainder of the fiscal year. Napolitano also issued a statement in March announcing that all UC employees would be eligible for 128 hours of paid administrative leave to be used before the end of December 2020.

Given these financial difficulties, Li expressed doubts as to whether it would be reasonable to ask the UC for tuition cuts considering the University still has to pay professors and staff.

UC has also lost millions in housing and dining revenue as students have left campuses, though some dormitories have remained open for students. In addition, students returning from canceled study abroad and Washington, D.C., programs were provided housing to quarantine for 14 days.

Li, who still lives on the Hill, received an email from student housing on April 13 announcing that she would be moving into a new room to consolidate remaining residents. The email also said that students would be placed one to a room with either a private or shared bathroom in an effort to promote social distancing. Students will be billed the Classic Triple rate regardless of the room type they are assigned.

Despite the stress of housing adjustments, Li said she felt supported by the UC.

“I think it’s pretty considerate that they’re placing us into rooms with shared or private bathrooms and we don’t have to pay anything extra,” she said.

Fortunately, institutions of higher education in the U.S. are not being stranded in this financial predicament.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law by President Trump late March, will provide nearly $14 billion to institutions of higher education to help pay for unforeseen costs related to COVID-19.

The funds will be distributed to institutions through the student financial aid system with about half the amount allocated for emergency aid to students. According to a letter issued by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on April 9, each institution will be responsible for developing their own system to determine how to distribute these funds to students.

An estimated $130 million will be allocated to the UC from the CARES Act for direct aid to students, including to those previously ineligible for assistance because of higher family incomes. The UC plans to recalculate financial aid to reflect students’ current needs.

According to UCLA’s Financial Aid and Scholarships Office, UCLA specifically is expecting to receive $35,906,870 through the CARES Act, of which at least $17,953,435 will be used for direct student aid. UCLA has assembled a task force to determine how these funds will be used and hopes to begin making disbursements to students in the next 30 days.

However, the $260 million that the UC system is allotted to receive through the CARES Act isn’t enough to even cover the first month of costs that the UC incurred due to the pandemic.

On the other hand, if the UC doesn’t adequately support its students, there may be an increase in leave of absences and withdraws as students choose to save money rather than take classes online.

The American Council on Education predicts that enrollment for the 2020-2021 academic year will drop by about 15%, with a 25% percent decline in the number of international students. This decline would result in a further decrease of revenue for the UC.

Despite the transition to online instruction, McBride said that top quality instructors continue to deliver classes, and the value of the University’s educational experience and degree remains.

However, many of the values of attending a UC come from outside the classroom. In particular, Fletcher voiced concern about missing out on the social aspect of life at UCLA.

“The whole point of college is to meet people, network and use those connections later to get a job,” she said.

Fletcher said that she would consider the option of withdrawing her enrollment in the fall if safer-at-home mandates were to continue.

“I’ll take my summer classes because it is cheaper as an out-of-state student. Besides that, I have enough credits to withhold my admission until things get back to normal.”

Time will only tell what the new “normal” will look like and whether or not out-state-students will see a change in their tuition rates. Until then, Bruins around the world and across the country will continue fumbling with Zoom audio as they wonder if online classes are worth the price.

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Maya Harris
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