Students consider tuition and fees during COVID-19

Millions of students around the country are paying full tuition costs for the fall 2020 semester, which provides funding for seats and campus resources they are not using. As students use remote learning and online resources, this pricing has raised numerous concerns, especially because these resources are cheaper than traditional coursework. 

For NAU specifically, the cost of attendance varies. For Arizona residents the tuition cost hovers around $12,000 per academic year, with fixed costs throughout four years of study. Meanwhile, Western Undergraduate Exchange students pay about $17,000 per academic year and out-of-state students shoulder a cost that exceeds $25,000 per academic year. Attending school can be costly, and with the world wrestling the COVID-19 pandemic, students are struggling to pay tuition and other university expenses.

According to The New York Times, unemployment figures hit an all-time high of 14.7% toward the start of the pandemic in April. When students specifically cannot find work, many of them will not be able to afford the living expenses that go along with attending university, which could be another argument for tuition cuts or exemptions amid COVID-19.

Senior Chase Laurier provided first-hand insight on the topic, and he said NAU’s decision to continue standard tuition rates is both interesting and unfair, especially for those learning remotely. Along with a decreased tuition, he explained that students should be able to opt out of certain amenity fees, such as the gym and other in-person services, that they are unable to utilize while attending classes online. 

“I understand that money is important, but I feel that the price of college should be reevaluated due to COVID,” Laurier said. 

Arthur Taylor’s book, “Perspectives on the University as a Business: the Corporate Management Structure, Neoliberalism and Higher Education” delves into the idea that universities around the western world — and particularly the United States — are business-oriented. 

“The perception of higher education as a business rests firmly on the basic premise of neoliberalism where in its most complete form, all social interactions are contextualized as part of a market,” Taylor wrote. “There is no collective good, there is only the individual and their interaction with the market. Under this view, the traditional academic mission of the university to create and disseminate knowledge is subsumed by the market and its demands.”

In other words, Taylor’s book stated that the primary concern of universities is maintaining their market, which in turn, provides schools with money. The entity cares about the business over the individual — the larger collective, the larger the monetary value of the university.

Junior Hector Campos said he dislikes that students are forced to pay fees for amenities they rarely, if ever, use. Even if the costs are low, he added that students should not fund services they cannot access. 

Although fees constitute a large portion of costs, tuition is even more significant. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, these payments are not covering the typical system of face-to-face instruction, although NAU recently granted limited occupancy to on-campus classrooms. 

Many professors developed a hybrid learning environment, wherein some students can attend classes in-person and others can livestream to participate remotely. Many students expressed personal struggles with online learning and want to be in the classroom, but this preference is not always possible.

“I personally want classes in person because that’s how I learn, but I do understand why we are online,” Campos said. “A small city, a lot of students in a small area, upcoming holidays and a state that opened too early is not a good mix for COVID-19.” 

Online learning can be frustrating, especially for international students who take classes during the early morning hours or late into evenings while still paying full costs. Time zone differences and travel restrictions prevented many from making it into the country, nonetheless into Flagstaff and onto campus. 

“What we can do as a Lumberjack community is stay healthy, opt for online and ensure that our university president understands the risks she is bringing in by making it seem like everything will be OK and charging us full tuition for an education that does not reflect those full tuition costs,” Campos said.

College students are living in a time when education is evolving and adapting regularly and it will be interesting to see what happens as the pandemic continues. The education system could be changed indefinitely around the world, especially with so many changes already underway.