With all course activities taking place online, students from colleges and universities are not getting what they signed up for. Many students are protesting and even suing their institutions for full refunds. The problem goes beyond the pandemic.
Colleges across the country take heat for keeping tuitions virtually unchanged despite a major change in what students receive for that money. However, the real issue may lie in what they receive under normal circumstances.
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Not What We Paid For
Students around the country are demanding lower tuition or full refunds for what is shaping up to be a dismal attempt at all levels of education to quickly go online.
The basic argument is that these students paid high tuition rates specifically for an on-campus education.
It’s a fair argument. Students made a conscious decision not to attend online schools or colleges. It is a less expensive option with obvious drawbacks in terms of social interaction, on-campus resources, and general experience.
If your flight to France was canceled due to the pandemic, you’d reasonably be upset if rather than a refund or travel credit, your airline offered you a live stream of the Eiffel Tower. This analogy isn’t perfect of course, but given the agreement among students and professors that the quality of online education just isn’t the same, it makes sense to give the students the option of a full refund.
Questioning the System
The troubles for our country’s universities and colleges may not end when this pandemic does. In fact, it could potentially lead to a massive rethinking of our education system.
Such a challenge would be long overdue. The United States government spends almost as much as any other country per capita on funding higher education for its citizens. Additionally, its citizens spend the most out of any other country. Student loans are the largest household debt item aside from mortgages.
The sacrifices that the coronavirus has made necessary, and the sense of austerity and practicality that it has evoked across the country, lie in stark contrast to an expensive, indulgent higher education system that often produces unemployable graduates.
Writing in The Federalist, Sumantra Maitra recently pointed out some of the glaring inefficiencies and self-defeating practices of universities in the United States.
“The average annual tuition for a student pursuing [gender studies] courses while borrowing money from taxpayers, much never to be paid back, is about $25,000. The University of Michigan, for example, pays a diversity bureaucrat about $385,000 annually. What do they do, you wonder? They teach compulsory courses on diversity, like this one at the University of Mississippi.”
Where Our Money Goes
Mr. Sumantra has a point. Citizens of other countries, including major competitors, focus on computer science, software engineering and medical degrees (often from our own universities). Meanwhile, the United States invests billions of dollars in funding expensive but useless titles. These titles often center on little more than vilifying our history through a revisionist lens. At the same time, we stigmatize vocational degrees, such as plumbing or welding. This stigma exists despite the fact that they cost far less and lead to secure, lucrative careers. It is a boon for both taxpayers and the tax base.
Scholarships for self-hate are a luxury of superpowers. It also one we’ll enjoy only briefly if we no longer lead in the most important fields of tomorrow. Suffice to say our place in the global order won’t be determined by our advancement in Fat Studies.
When the pandemic ends, some universities will not have survived. However, most will open their doors to a new class of incoming students. However, like so many issues laid bare by the immense stress of the coronavirus outbreak, the American public will likely rethink the expensive role of today’s universities and colleges in preparing our citizens for the future.
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