Opinion: Zoom University Is Not Worth $56,000
By Ashleigh Blackwell, Contributing Writer
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives drastically in the past few weeks. We have been ordered to stay home, lost our jobs, and, for students, transferred to online education. While I applaud Gettysburg College for the necessary precautions they have taken and for giving us the room and meal plan refund we deserved, we have been told there will be no tuition refund.
Technically, the college is giving us what they promised when we enrolled months or years ago. We have access to courses through which we can earn credit toward our Bachelor’s degrees. However, this is the function of any college or university. I cannot speak for the entire student body, but I chose Gettysburg because I knew I would have access to the best education I could receive from any school I chose. While professors are doing everything they can to retain normalcy and the same quality of education, it is not possible to do so remotely. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the college to provide a refund on our tuition costs.
I live in Lancaster, PA and applied to Millersville University. Millersville is a great school, but it was not the right fit for me and I knew I would have access to a better education at Gettysburg. However, had I chosen Millersville over Gettysburg, I would now be receiving the same quality of education, since they have moved online as well. The only difference is that I would be paying under five thousand dollars instead of nearly thirty thousand for the semester. I am not asking the college to match the tuition of the cheapest college in the area as the expertise of our professors is invaluable, as is the degree we are all working towards. However, it is not reasonable to charge us the same price as if we were taking classes in person. We cannot equate our current online education to one on campus.
The college has said they will not be refunding tuition because “Gettysburg College remains committed to providing our students the very best education possible under these extraordinary circumstances” and that our tuition will be utilized to support the staff and other services the college has to use to provide us an online education. I agree that our faculty and staff deserve to be paid their worth, especially as they struggle to adapt to this new situation as well. When we are issued the refund for tuition we deserve, it cannot be reflected by layoffs or smaller paychecks.
It is not the responsibility of the students to continue to pay for an education we do not have access to because the college does not have an emergency fund to support staff in unprecedented events like a global pandemic. The quality of education we are receiving is not on par with the “Gettysburg Great” education we were promised when we enrolled. Personally, I attend only one class for lectures during normal class time because only one of my classes offers in-person lectures. The rest of my classes, and those of many of my peers, are essentially self-taught from reading textbooks and watching YouTube videos. I appreciate the effort my professors and everyone at the college have put in during this uncertain time, but it is not enough to warrant the cost.
I contacted student accounts to see if they could provide an itemized list of everything tuition covers. They explained that the college does not have such a list and that “[t]he tuition charge covers all aspects of a student’s courses and education, including access to faculty and the ability to receive a degree.” Again, I am grateful for the effort of our faculty and staff to help support the students through this difficult time, but we do not have access to our faculty the way we did before. Zoom calls are glitchy and unreliable, which makes it cumbersome to schedule a meeting with professors. Without lectures, we do not have opportunities to ask questions in person as we learn the material. It can take days to get a response over email as people’s inboxes are overflowing. We do not have access to faculty that warrants a $56,000 tuition bill.
Not only is this education no longer worth the money we have spent on it, but the college has also acknowledged the deterioration in quality. We all received an email from the provost in March letting us know we would have the option to change the grades of our courses to S/U grading scale. This change in grading is the administration admitting that we cannot expect to receive the same education remotely. This remote education could lead some of us to be forced to utilize a different grading scale to accommodate the poor grades we may receive from not being in a traditional educational environment.
The provost closed the email with the following: “Allowing this flexibility is a direct acknowledgment of our unusual circumstances this semester. We expect our remote courses to maintain the highest quality of instruction possible. Furthermore, we expect students to continue to seek the most from their courses and instructors.” This “expectation” is not a guarantee. If the college cannot guarantee “the highest quality of instruction possible” from a Gettysburg education, we should not be expected to pay the price of an on-campus education when it is guaranteed quality.
With that in mind, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has done everything possible to make this transition as smooth as possible. This has not been an easy situation for anyone and the professors and other staff at Gettysburg have tried their hardest to make the best of the situation.
A student from another college summed up my thoughts and I’m sure those of many other students. He asked how unsatisfied you would be if you paid thousands for front seat tickets to a Beyonce concert and got a livestream instead. Zoom and Moodle are not replacements for on-campus learning and we deserve a refund to compensate for the decrease in quality.