UCLA rejects possibility of spring tuition refund, USAC stresses transparency
Students won’t be receiving refunds for any part of spring quarter tuition, despite the closure and suspension of several campus resources. (Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)
By Stephen Wyer
April 21, 2020 5:57 pm
This post was updated April 21 at 9:07 p.m.
UCLA will not offer any refund for mandatory spring quarter fees and tuition, despite the reduction in campus services and the move to online instruction.
The absence or reduction of campus programs and entities along with the switch to virtual learning has prompted some students to call for a partial refund for the cost of attendance.
A Change.org petition with over 43,000 signatures is demanding the University of California provide at least a partial refund for spring tuition, arguing that the majority of students have returned home and are no longer able to benefit from campus services.
The student learning experience has considerably changed due to the move to online learning. Students have had to adapt to virtual learning platforms such as Zoom, while no longer being able to enjoy the benefits of an in-person education. UCLA made the decision to move classes online on March 13, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus on campus.
Since the start of the quarter, UCLA has also closed all libraries, the Wooden Center, the Ackerman Student Union and a variety of other programs and services formerly available.
Services such as the Wooden Center and the Student Union are funded through UCLA campus-specific fees, while other programs such as Counseling and Psychological Services are funded by UC-wide student services fees.
However, the University of California has repeatedly said that it does not intend to offer any refund for tuition, citing the continued costs of administration and maintenance on UC campuses.
“In many areas the University faces increased costs, not lower costs, due to the pandemic,” UC spokesperson Sarah McBride said in an emailed statement.
McBride said increased costs include expenditures on video collaboration, software and website licenses. These licenses are necessary to support large-scale video conferencing for classes on platforms such as Zoom.
McBride added that funds are also going towards technology security to support a remote workforce in the UC system. For instance, the UC is paying for additional private networks to ensure security and privacy, and providing laptops for individuals who do not ordinarily work remotely.
Robert Watson, president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, said he understands the UC is facing added costs because of the move to remote instruction.
However, Watson said he is dissatisfied with the lack of student input in the UC Regents and the UCOP decision to not offer a partial refund.
Watson said UC leadership did not consult with either the University of California Students Association nor the council of student body presidents, of which he is a member, before making the announcement about tuition in March.
“There’s a longstanding problem in the UC with folks making decisions that really impact students without students being present,” Watson said. “This should be communicated to everyone. We have the council of student body presidents (and) we have UCSA. The UCOP should be consulting with both of those entities before making really big decisions.”
The UCOP did not respond to a request for comment on its alleged lack of transparency in deciding against a partial refund.
While on-campus services at UCLA such as the Wooden Center, Ackerman Student Union, and the libraries had been closed, UCLA still requires a significant amount of funding to pay for the continued maintenance of these facilities along with the salaries of campus staff, Watson said.
“Even though students aren’t using these services, the costs are still there,” Watson said. “If you take away the money from the fees, you’re putting people’s jobs at risk.”
USAC Financial Supports Commissioner Millen Srivastava, agreed with Watson that the UC had not been transparent in its decision to not offer a partial refund.
Srivastava added that more effective communication was needed between the UC, campus administrations and students.
“There’s a whole line of confusion which is just causing more chaos,” she said.
Srivastava said students are often unaware of many of the behind-the-scenes costs of running a university, such as maintenance and staff salaries, but added that the UC owes students greater transparency around where specifically tuition and systemwide fees are being spent during the coronavirus pandemic.
USAC leadership, which includes Srivastava, will meet with UCLA’s chief financial officer Greg Goldman later this month to obtain a thorough transparency report documenting where exactly tuition and fees are being spent, Srivastava said.
Srivastava said the focus of this meeting would be to find where tuition was being spent, particularly for international and out-of-state students who pay higher tuition than in-state students.
“Out-of-state and international students are paying $15,000 (for spring quarter) for a university that they’re going to at home right now,” she said.
Srivastava added that a transparency report would help assuage the concerns of such students about how their money is being allocated.
To provide support for students who have been financially harmed by the coronavirus pandemic, USAC launched a relief fund on April 18 where students can apply for a one-time relief payment of $500.
All undergraduate students can apply for the fund by filling out a questionnaire, answering questions about how they have been affected by the outbreak.
Srivastava said the relief fund was made possible by USAC’s surplus for the spring quarter, as a result of having fewer expenses due to the move to remote instruction.