Temple University should offer students partial tuition reimbursement

As classes move online in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, quality of instruction is declining and students deserve fair reimbursement.

HANNAH LIPSKI / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Temple University announced its move to online instruction for the remainder of the semester on March 11, Nic Romero didn’t know what was going to happen to his classes.

Romero, a junior dance major, has three 80-minute classes each week focused on in-person dance technique, he said. One of his other classes involves physical instruction, requiring him to display his own choreography and receive feedback from others, he said.

“We can’t do that anymore because it’s online now, so the entire curriculum of the class for most of my technique classes are instead that we’re gonna watch videos and maybe write a paper,” Romero said. “Like, we can’t even get what we’re supposed to be here for. As dance majors, we’re here to go to class, learn technique and be able to learn from teachers and develop ourselves as dancers, and we can’t do that if we’re just writing papers.”

The changes made to Romero’s classes aren’t unique — all Temple students are adjusting to the move to online classes to different ways.

Temple made the decision to begin online-only instruction in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus, earlier this month, The Temple News reported. There are 644 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania and 128 confirmed cases in Philadelphia County as of March 23, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new coronavirus which was first discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It causes respiratory illnesses. The disease has since spread to dozens of countries, and on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic.

On March 14, only three days after the university’s move to online instruction, the university announced that a Temple student had tested positive for COVID-19, The Temple News reported. Since then, two more students tested positive for COVID-19.

It’s clear that the university’s move to online classes was necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 further — I would never dispute that. However, the effects of this transition on the student learning experience aren’t negligible, and if students did not pay for online education, they shouldn’t be charged for the full cost of tuition at Temple. 

The university will begin reimbursing students living in residence halls for the cost of housing after March 21, The Temple News reported. Temple also announced it would issue prorated refunds for students’ meal plans and parking passes based on the last day of use, The Temple News further reported.

The university will not, however, refund students for the cost of tuition. I think it is their responsibility to do so.

“Student tuition supports [students’] education and that continues. Students are still in contact with the same great faculty, and continue to earn credits towards graduation,” wrote Ray Betzner, a spokesperson for the university, in an email to The Temple News. “Yes, online learning is certainly a different environment, but we hope students understand that continuing their education is the university’s top priority, after ensuring their health and well-being.”

While I believe faculty are doing all they can to adapt to online instruction, it does not change the glaring issues in this new format. A multitude of courses, like Romero’s dance classes, require in-person instruction to properly teach students the course material.

Zachary Bedford, a junior biology major, originally benefited from the hands-on instruction of his genetics course, which included a three-hour-long lab. He assumed he would be watching his professor complete the lab themselves to make up for this loss, but that’s not the case, Bedford said.

Instead, the professor talks to students over Zoom, a video conferencing application, and students complete problems in online breakout rooms, Bedford said. His three-hour-long lab was deduced to a 30-minute-long discussion.

“I’m more of a hands-on learner, so I really liked lab,” Bedford said. “It allowed me to take what I learned in lecture and in lab and actually apply some critical thinking to it to work on whatever lab we were doing that week. So that’s definitely a bummer that I don’t get to do that anymore, and I don’t even get to watch a lab.”

Abigayle Stoetzer, a senior vocal performance major, has multiple performance-based classes, and the move to Zoom hasn’t been entirely successful, she said. 

“Even though it’s not the worst thing in the world, it is very inaccurate because there is a delay when you’re doing FaceTime or Zoom or something, so you’re not getting the exact knowledge of the student’s voice or what they’re doing or phonating,” Stoetzer said. “It’s just very speculatory.”

Stoetzer was planning a degree recital, which is a graded performance she’s been working on since she first came to Temple, she said. Stoetzer’s recital, an homage to her Jewish heritage, had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead, she has to record herself singing and submit that video to a professor for a grade.

“The fact that we don’t get to show music that means a lot to us that we’ve been selectively picking out for about four years is very disheartening,” Stoetzer said.

Temple only offers differences in the cost of online programs at schools that have online graduate programs, like the Boyer College of Music and Dance, College of Public Health, School of Social Work and the Fox School of Business, according to Temple’s 2019-2020 tuition rate schedule. 

In two of these schools — Boyer and the College of Public Health — online graduate programs cost less per-credit than their non-online counterparts. At Boyer, for example, an online graduate degree costs $284 less per-credit for in-state students and $639 less for out-of-state students.

Temple only offers one online undergraduate degree — a Bachelor of Business Administration at Fox — which costs $595 per credit hour, according to Temple’s 2019-20 tuition rate schedule. For the same program at an in-person rate, the cost is $859 for in-state students and $1,567 for out-of-state students, a 44.4 percent and 163.4 percent increase respectively.

Put simply, based on the one undergraduate degree Temple offers, tuition costs nearly half as much for in-state students and more than 1.5 times as much for out-of-state students as it does for either type of student pursuing the same degree through online instruction.

But with the move to online classes, we’re paying the regular, inflated cost of tuition for courses that should cost less. That’s not fair to our students.

Reimbursing the cost of tuition would positively benefit Temple students experiencing the brash economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. More than half of American jobs are at moderate or high risks at the moment, and it’s likely 10 million Americans could see an impact in their paychecks, whether that be from wage cuts, fewer hours or layoffs, CNN reported on March 16.

That is undeniably going to affect our student body, who still have costs to pay, like rent, groceries and medical costs if they get sick. If the university would partially reimburse students for the cost of their education, those funds could be incredibly significant as the economy nears a potential recession.

Stoetzer lost both of her work study jobs as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. A partial tuition reimbursement would help her while she focuses on classes, Stoetzer said.

“My job is an hourly job, so it’s just like, what am I supposed to do now?” Stoetzer said. “I would just like something, so I just have some sort of net to catch me instead of just putting all of my eggs in one basket.”

Ultimately, Temple had no choice to make the move to online instruction — every other school in the area made the same decision, and on March 16, President Donald Trump recommended people do not meet in groups of 10 or more, CNN reported. That single recommendation would’ve made most in-person classes obsolete. It is the only way to stop the spread on our campus.

“This semester has moved in a direction no one could have predicted when it began in January,” Betzner wrote. “It’s important to remember that at a time when so many industries and businesses have shut down, Temple students are continuing to earn an education that has tremendous value.”

But the impact on the quality of instruction is abundantly clear. Although Temple made the right decision, students are still struggling to adapt to video-conferencing discussion groups, canceled performances and transformed curricula.

With the mounting financial, academic and mental health pressures of our present day, students deserve to be fairly charged for the quality of the courses they’re enrolled in. 

A petition by students is calling for the university to partially reimburse tuition in proportion to the services that are still being offered. That petition has more than 1,700 signatures as of March 23.

It’s clear our student body supports a partial reimbursement of their tuition, but the university refuses to acknowledge this serious concern. 

I understand the move to online instruction was necessary, but when it deprives students of valuable funds in a time of economic instability and rising health concerns, the university needs to understand tuition reimbursement is necessary as well.

Temple — do the right thing and reimburse students for the money they deserve.

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