Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer
Many students are experiencing college in different ways this semester, particularly through the use of online classes, and some feel that the change in education should be reflected in a change in tuition prices.
Sunny Lee, a senior psychology major, started an online petition last week, asking VCU to lower tuition and give students a voice on the issue. As of Tuesday, it has gained more than 1,100 signatures on change.org.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting the word out there,” Lee said, “and articulating what I think a lot of students feel, but haven’t actually vocalized.”
Lee started the petition after reading about students from Boston, Brown, Vanderbilt, George Washington and other universities who had similar complaints about tuition cost with respect to the education quality.
The petition states that online classes provide a lower quality of education than in-person instruction and an increase in mandatory fees is unnecessary due to an increase in remote classes.
VCU’s university fee increased by $102 this year, according to the annual budget. The technology fee increased by $2, the library fee increased by $10 and the Capital Outlay Fee, which only applies to nonresident students, increased by $30. The Capital Outlay Fee is required by the General Assembly to reimburse the state for costs of buildings and equipment for out-of-state students.
“A Zoom meeting held in a dorm room or our parents’ home is not as valuable as the price of the type of education that we are paying for,” the petition states.
Freshman chemistry major Preet Shah said she supports the petition, but thinks the quality of education depends on how the professor is handling online teaching.
“They don’t really need to charge us everything,” Shah said.
Shah said she was frustrated by having to pay for online platforms, such as TopHat, when VCU provides Blackboard and Canvas, similar online educational platforms, to professors and students for free. Shah said TopHat should be covered by tuition costs.
Christopher Saladino, an assistant professor of political science at VCU, said he understands why students want to lower tuition costs, but thinks the petition came too late. Tuition and fees were due for most students at the start of the semester.
Tuition reduction would need to be budgeted and approved by the Board of Visitors, which Saladino said could take a long time. The annual university budget, typically approved during the spring semester, wasn’t finalized by the Board of Visitors for the 2020-21 academic year until June 5 due to COVID-19.
Tuition, the student activity fee and the health services fee did not increase from last year, according to the budget. Virginia residents pay $12,094 in tuition per year during the 2020-21 school year, and nonresidents pay $32,742.
Room and board costs are the same for both Virginia and nonresident students. VCU estimates the cost of room and board to be $11,504 per semester.
Saladino said he doesn’t think the coronavirus contributed much to the case for lowering tuition, since every higher-level institution is dealing with similar financial struggles due to COVID-19. He said the “practical part” of him doesn’t think tuition should decrease, as the cost of online classes was the same last school year.
“I have kind of mixed feelings about it,” Saladino said. “If I were 19 years old and trying to pay my way through school, I’d be protesting tuition all the time.”