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Schools and universities shut down amid COVID-19 | photo from gettyimages

Published: May 14th, 2020

While students around the world are learning and working from home, schools and universities are getting creative with online options to ensure the health and safety of students. However, as the coronavirus crisis settles in, students — many of whom take out huge loans to finance their degrees — are wondering how to justify spending $70,000 a year on… Zoom classes.

Here’s how most students feel:

  • They feel like they’re getting the raw end of the deal.

“We’re paying for other services that the campus offers that aren’t digitized,” says Dhrumil Shah, who is doing a Master’s degree in public health at George Washington University.

  • The shift to distance learning due to stay-at-home orders in effect in Washington to curb the spread of the deadly virus has resulted in a loss of structure and supervision.

“It sets up the person going through that experience for failure,” Shah says, admitting he’s become “drastically” unproductive without the accountability of in-person classes.

  • Many students in the U.S. are lamenting that their quintessential American college experience has been lost — no sunny afternoons on college quads playing frisbee, no classes in high-tech labs, no crazy nights out.

“No matter how much NYU insists to the contrary, it is simply not possible to provide a full performing arts education via Zoom,” said Molly Riddick, a New York University student, in a comment on change.org.

Here’s what most students want:

  • are demanding that their colleges be held to account.
  • They are signing several petitions demanding some kind of reimbursement from the school.
  • Some students have taken their grievances to court as they feel they are getting awarded with degrees and diplomas with a “diminished” value because of the nature of online and pass/fail courses. 
  • At least 50 U.S. colleges and universities have been sued by students on similar grounds.

For many schools, offering a virtual future means added pressure from students and their parents, who often are footing the bill, especially given the dire economic situation in the U.S.

Some universities and colleges have partially reimbursed students for room and board, given that many left campuses in mid-March, but none have gone so far as to refund any tuition for the spring semester. 

The stakes are high. While the nation’s top universities like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have huge endowments and the ability to borrow at will, smaller schools could face bankruptcy if enrollment slips.

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