Students lament tuition, faculty work to create engaging classes

Students walk through campus with masks. CT File Photo

Sahara Sriraman, Contributing Writer

Economics department chair Leslie Stratton is implementing virtual learning methods that will assist both her and her students in the face of online learning this semester. She plans on using Google Sheets to engage with her students.

“We, as faculty, are concerned to make sure that we are offering a quality product and that students are actually learning,” Stratton said.

On Jan. 12, VCU President Michael Rao issued a university-wide statement stating all classes for the spring semester would begin online due to increasing COVID-19 cases. Many students expressed negative feelings about this decision because VCU would not be reducing tuition. 

Stratton said she understands both the students’ and the university’s perspectives. She believes that in some ways, VCU’s costs are higher because they’ve had to purchase services such as Zoom and online library resources, along with resources directed toward dealing with COVID-19.

“It’s not an easy situation for either side,” Stratton said.

Sophomore criminal justice student Amal Ibnoujala said that because she feels the quality of her online classes has been significantly lower than her previous in-person classes, the tuition for all VCU students should have been reduced for this semester. 

She said she thinks the university should have lowered its tuition for students during the spring 2020 semester since all courses were moved online in March.

“This new format is not what I signed up for,” Ibnoujala said. “It’s not what anyone signed up for.” 

Last spring, Stratton said the spring 2020 semester presented certain difficulties since the university moved classes to online in the middle of the semester.

“In the fall semester, I think things went a little better, in part because so many of us took the 16-hour course to learn how to better set up a course to teach online,” Stratton said.

Stratton believes she will be more prepared for the upcoming spring semester. She mentioned some students and professors might prefer virtual to in-person learning.

“Sure, in-person classes are a lot better in my opinion, but it’s understandable because people are getting sick and we will never know who gets sick in a classroom,” said Freshman theatre performance major Brandon McLendon. “Safety’s a number one priority.”

The fees students must pay in addition to tuition includes a lot of resources that aren’t available to students taking classes online, such as healthcare, library and transportation, according to Ibnoujala.

“Because this format is not getting to me the same way in-person classes would, the quality does not equal the price,” Ibnoujala said.

This year, according to VCU’s 2020-2021 budget, the fees for students included:

  • Tuition base fee for instate students: $5,838.00
  • University fee: $1,068.50
  • Technology fee: $42.50
  • Library fee: $40
  • Student activity fee: $45
  • Health fee: $112 
  • Program fee: $45

Ibnoujala said VCU should’ve reduced the tuition for the spring 2020 semester, in contrast to the fall and upcoming spring semester, since students were sent home in March. She said students who were staying at home, especially, should’ve received reduced tuitions.

During the 2019-20 year, while most of the costs remained the same, some fees have increased this school year. Personal and miscellaneous fees increased by $223, and other fees increased by $114. 

Ibnoujala stated health should come before having a “normal college experience.”

University spokesperson Mike Porter said he understands why students may want a reduced tuition, but that online learning comes with additional costs. 

“We now provide support services in both in-person and in an online format so that students can continue to access them no matter if they are attending campus in-person or remote,” Porter said via email.

VCU is supporting multiple departments in the shift to online learning, including virtual counseling and telehealth appointments, tutoring, libraries, student organizations and activities, advising, career services, accessibility and educational support, student services and financial management centers, and multicultural student affairs.

Freshman theatre performance major Brandon McLendon said some students and parents are struggling financially, making it more difficult for them to pay a full tuition. 

McLendon said VCU’s decision to make spring classes virtual was a well thought out one, especially because of Richmond’s increasing cases. According to the Virginia Department of Health, Richmond’s positivity rate is steadily increasing along with the majority of the state with an average of 130 cases a day by the end of January. 

“Sure, in-person classes are a lot better in my opinion, but it’s understandable because people are getting sick and we will never know who gets sick in a classroom,” McLendon said. “Safety’s a number one priority.”

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