College students demand tuition reimbursements for virtual learning

As colleges across the state plan to reopen with virtual or hybrid learning plans, the issue of tuition reimbursements is gaining momentum. Some students, like Jenna Jenkins, a sophomore at Montclair State University, are calling for refunds.

“I would like to see, probably half of our tuition for each semester refunded, because like I said before, only 38% of classes are actually in person,” Jenkins said. “It’s like we are paying the exact same amount as people who are still going to school, when we’re not leaving our beds.”

Hailey Noecker, also a Montclair State University student, started a petition calling for tuition reimbursements and has collected 1,000 signatures so far.

“I just hope that Montclair becomes at least a little bit sympathetic towards their students, and not just completely flat out ignores them, like they have continued to do. And that’s why I think Hailey’s petition is so amazing,” Jenkins said.

To make ends meet, MSU President Susan Cole has taken a 20% salary cut; the school’s cut administrative positions, and faculty and staff have been furloughed for about two weeks.

The College of New Jersey is going all remote this fall, so it has made major investments in technology and teacher training, to make the virtual learning more effective than it was in the spring, says president Kate Foster.

“For anyone who might think that, oh, the colleges are just going to remote because it’ll be somehow easier in a complicated fall, I need to say that this is, at least budgetarily speaking, a profoundly disadvantageous decision,” Foster said.

Without the revenue from on-campus housing, many schools stand to lose major portions of their operating budgets. Many have already lost millions in state aid due to COVID-related budget cuts. Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Ocean) is pushing for schools statewide to reduce costs for students, which could make budgeting even tougher for colleges and universities.

“Here’s the incentive, here’s the choice. Save our students’ money, or lose some state aid,” Dancer said.

Dancer’s bill would affect any college or university that receives taxpayer dollars and switches all classes to online full-time. It doesn’t specify how much should be reimbursed to students, or cut from state aid. He wants to leave that to the secretary of Higher Education, to develop a statewide model for schools. He says students shouldn’t be paying fees for facilities they’re not using.

“I’ll use Rutgers University as an example,” Dancer said. “The computer fee at Rutgers University per semester is $171, on top of tuition. What about the campus fee? The campus fee on top of tuition is $1,145. What does that provide? Well they have the recreation center, they have the student center. If they’re not there and they have remote learning, really they shouldn’t be charged those type of fees.”

Rutgers said in a statement:

“The Rutgers Board of Governors took the unprecedented step of freezing tuition and fees for the upcoming year. This action was taken in recognition of the economic stresses that confront every member of our community and despite cost increases in virtually every area of our operation. In addition, President Jonathan Holloway announced a 15% reduction in campus fees for the 2020-2021 academic year.”

The College of New Jersey has also reduced fees, Foster said.

“We’ve eliminated the student activities fee, ID card fee, the parking fee regardless of whether you’re on campus or not. We reduced the student center fee. We eliminated many of the lab fees. And we also took a major reduction of 12.5%, which is 25% for the fall, of our capital fee. And I should say, the capital fee is what goes towards campus infrastructure,” she said.

For things like new technology, they’re using reserves to cover those costs. Rutgers said any additional loss in state aid would undercut their ability to do things like freeze tuition and it could force other colleges to potentially close their doors.