Should College Cost Less This Semester?

By: Rachel Jacobi  |  August 30, 2020

Rachel Jacobi, Science and Technology Editor

The history of distance learning dates back to the late 1800s. In fact, even during WWII Anne Frank wrote in her diary of ‘correspondence courses’ that she and her sister signed up for while living in the Annex. Online college, however, made its big debut in 1989, when the University of Phoenix launched programs offering fully online bachelor’s and master’s degrees to students. 

In 2020, the growth in online studying has been unprecedented, and for many colleges, this shift will continue into the Fall Semester of 2020. Harvard University, Princeton, and Columbia are just a few of the more prominent schools that have declared their courses this fall semester to be fully online.

Traditionally, online colleges and degrees are cheaper than ones obtained at brick-and-mortar universities. In 2019-2020, the average tuition for traditional, private colleges was $36,801 with Yeshiva University at the higher end of the scale, with a tuition of $44,900. Concurrently, according to the Arizona State University website (which boasts one of the largest US online colleges), the average tuition for an undergraduate, non-resident, full-time student is at an average of $16,000 a year. Similarly, at Penn State’s online school, Penn State World Campus, an undergraduate, full-time student would pay about $7,000 a semester. 

While Yeshiva University has presented a hybrid model to students of in-person courses, online courses, or both — pending a return to campus in mid-October — many courses (certainly a majority of mine) will be fully online for the duration of the semester regardless of whether the campus opens back up or not. Despite these changes, tuition rates at Yeshiva University have not been decreased for this semester or even frozen. Last semester, both the YU Observer and The Commentator reported on the tuition hikes that students will be facing this year, an increase of $1,575 (or 3.51%) from the 2019-2020 academic year. With the development of many courses transitioning from in-person to online, is a 3.51% increase in tuition warranted?

Traditional colleges justify the drastic price difference between online and traditional colleges with a variety of reasons. Online colleges have less staff and faculty to support. They also don’t offer many of the amenities and resources available to students that would otherwise be available in a traditional college. Further, at Yeshiva University, many students pay for the more personal experience that the smaller class sizes offer, an experience that arguably does not transition easily into an online setting which tends to be more impersonal, making connecting with professors and networking with peers more difficult. In point of fact, a staggering 90% of students, surveyed by the Real Estate Witch Survey (REW), agreed that courses online should cost less than in-person classes. 

Further, students have been hit hard financially. REW has disclosed that of the students looking for jobs for the upcoming academic year, 76% of students reported difficulty doing so. Additionally, in comparison to students that were surveyed in May of 2019, students in 2020 are 64% less likely to have a part-time job to cover expenses. Not only that, but 48% are concerned they won’t be able to find a job for the school year.

Students are also going into greater debt this year to cover tuition. REW reports that “[w]hile the proportion of students who take on student loans to help pay for college is similar to a study we conducted last year (~48%), students report borrowing more for the upcoming school year as a result of the coronavirus. Nearly half of students who borrowed for college are borrowing more this year, 33% of whom said they’re borrowing an additional $10,000 compared to last year.”

Even though most colleges are transitioning to online or hybrid formats, less than 3% of colleges surveyed plan to reduce tuition in the fall. However, CNBC has also reported that a growing number of colleges are announcing a freeze in tuition if not a decrease. Amongst them are Delaware Valley University, Kansas City University, and Central Michigan University. 

A while ago, The Commentator called for the Yeshiva University administration to nix tuition increases for this semester. I urge them to do the same. I understand that YU has probably incurred financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19. However, the reality is difficult to deny and must be addressed. In examining the differences between online and in-person education, all colleges should consider that for this semester, students may be getting less bang for their buck. That, coupled with the unusually taxing financial situation many students find themselves in this semester, warrants if not a decrease in tuition, then a freeze, least of all an increase.