Updated: Oct 19, 2021
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the United States, many institutions have been faced with tough decisions. Colleges and universities are no exception, and with the upcoming school year rolling in, different establishments are taking various measures to address the ongoing pandemic. Colleges across the U.S. are outlining their plans of action to fulfill the needs of health concerns, finances, and education. This is expected, as there is no one cookie cutter solution to the question of how to reopen colleges safely after months of lockdown. This uncertainty is of great concern to many, as every student and staff member has different needs.
25% of the confirmed cases worldwide are located in the United States, with thousands of cases surfacing daily. In the last two weeks of July alone, nearly 100,000 children tested positive for the coronavirus in the U.S. Moreover, on average, nearly 1000 people die daily due to the novel virus.
Areas located in the southern hemisphere have been seeing wintertime spikes of the virus. Many studies attribute these spikes to the cooler weather, and it has thus been suggested that coronavirus will only worsen in coming months here in the US. With cases on the rise and wintertime quickly approaching, many colleges and universities are faced with increasing uncertainty that they need to plan for. Moreover, because their decisions will affect the lives of many, they must be careful to not neglect any forthcoming issues.
The DMV, which consists of Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, has had its fair share of cases. The region has around 220,000 confirmed cases and has been seeing a recent rise in COVID-19 cases per day. In the last week, while Maryland saw a decline in the number of positive tests, Virginia and D.C. continued to tally positive cases at a constant rate. This is particularly troublesome for many in the DMV, as the new school year is approaching quickly.
The District of Columbia has tested over 250,000 people for COVID. Of these, 13,354 have tested positive, and there have been 599 deaths. Currently, 79 individuals are hospitalized due to the novel virus. The District keeps an updated list of states that are considered to be of high risk, and people traveling from certain states must stay quarantined for two weeks before going to D.C.
Maryland has confirmed over 102,000 cases and over 3,600 deaths in total. In the last week, data charts revealed that the daily average number of cases has decreased in Maryland from 895 to 751, a significant drop. However, certain counties such as Prince George’s County are still seeing a high number of positive cases on a daily basis.
Virginia has confirmed over 108,000 cases and nearly 2,400 deaths in total. In Northern Virginia, Loudoun County, Fairfax County, and Prince William County have accumulated the highest number of positive cases. The Hampton Roads region of Virginia has seen a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, causing Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to add restrictions to the area. This is due to the large crowds gathering on the beaches of the region. Virginia also recently became the first state to have rolled out the use of an app, Covidwise. The smartphone app, created by Apple and Google, automatically notifies users when they have come in contact with the coronavirus.
Colleges and Universities
Many colleges are taking multifaceted approaches to the fall semester by offering a variety of options to students. While students are appreciative of the options available to them, many concerns have been raised in regards to the fees and tuitions, given that many will be receiving significantly altered forms of education. They argue that they are not getting the full experience of college and that institutions will be saving money by not having students on campus. However, some institutions have justified their raised tuition, despite the unprecedented situation. Students and families have filed lawsuits and started petitions. Even so, a majority of colleges are staying firm with their decision.
Many studies have come up with varying results as to what would be the most effective way to control COVID-19 cases if colleges choose to reopen. A model study concluded that for colleges to safely reopen, students would have to be tested for COVID-19 every two days. However, if students and colleges adhere to precautions in terms of social distancing, mask wearing, and more, the authors said such frequent testing may not be required.
George Washington University, in Washington D.C., will be holding all undergraduate courses online. They will also be reducing tuition for students not staying on campus by 10%. Scott Burnotes, Vice President for the Division of Safety and Facilities at George Washington University, recently announced that “beginning August 28 at 5 p.m., access to all of GW’s campuses will be limited to only those who have special permission to be on campus.”
Georgetown University, which is also located in Washington D.C., will also be holding all undergraduate courses online. They also have decided on a 10% cut for all undergraduate students and a 5% cut for all graduate students. The tuition cut is in the form of a credit to the “parents expected contribution” category of financial aid, amounting to $2,900 for full time students.
The American University, in Washington D.C., will be offering courses with no residential experience. Students who were previously registered for housing will be refunded accordingly. Although all classes are virtual, the tuition price has risen 2.95% from the previous year.
The University of Maryland will be offering a mix of in person and virtual learning to maximize flexibility. UMD President Darryll J. Pines announced that the university has delayed undergraduate in-person instruction until September 14. This is due to the high amount of COVID-19 cases in Prince George’s County. The tuition for all students will remain the same as it was last year.
Johns Hopkins University urges students to not return to Baltimore and will be moving all instruction to virtual classrooms. Undergraduate tuition will also be reduced by 10% for the fall semester.
The University of Virginia (UVA) will be taking a hybrid approach in the fall semester. Some classes will be held online while others will be in person. The tuition will remain the same for the year.
George Mason University will also be taking a mix of in-person instruction virtual learning. All research conducted by the university will also continue under this hybrid model. The school will be refunding housing and dining payments, but the tuition will be remaining the same for students.
The William and Mary board unanimously voted to repeal their initial decision to increase tuition for the upcoming school year. Now, tuition and mandatory fees will stay flat for all students. The school will be taking a phased reopening approach to ensure fewer students on-campus.
Students around the country are being faced with new and unprecedented challenges daily due to COVID-19. Tuitions, virtual learning, campus access, housing, and more are up in the air.
Kathryn Yang is a rising sophomore who is transferring to Georgetown University for the upcoming year. Although she is grateful for the reduction in tuition that Georgetown is offering, she still believes the price for virtual classes is astronomically high. “I am actually transferring from the College of William and Mary where I was paying in-state tuition, and now I have to pay about double the amount I paid before for virtual classes. I chose to come to Georgetown for the location and opportunities, and although I don’t regret my decision, it saddens me that the reasons for which I justified the increase in tuition are now out the window because of the coronavirus.”
In terms of different students’ financial situations, Yang said she wishes “Georgetown would have been more liberal with financial aid, need-blind scholarships, and tuition cuts.” She did admit that something is better than nothing, as many schools haven’t reduced tuitions for virtual classes. Yang also stated that the coronavirus revealed the gaping inequities in the American education system and how fragile the traditional approach to a college career is. She finds that her and her peers have been turning to alternate means of learning, such as virtual community college courses for credits. She also knows of students “who are taking leave of absences, gap years, or even transferring” due to COVID-19. “COVID-19 has normalized alternative pathways to fund and complete a college education and it’s really made me question what getting an ‘education’ means to me and how worth it is to me,” Yang said.
Atharv Gupta, who will also be attending Georgetown University for his sophomore year, shared his thoughts on the situation. “Personally, I’m largely benefiting from the cut, especially because I won’t be paying for room and board or a meal plan. That being said, the tuition cut and COVID-19 related disturbances to the university’s finances have led to major changes in the university’s financial aid. Many students received far less aid than they would normally, some even paying more for one online semester than they paid the entirety of last year. My financial aid has also decreased but I’m fortunately not too affected by the change.”
Gupta stated “the way Georgetown initially went about the cut only benefited the richest population at Georgetown paying full tuition. Those dependent on financial aid haven’t seen any benefit, and this negligence is even worse because of the subsequent cuts to financial aid.” He acknowledged that the university, similar to other institutions around the world, is facing certain hardships. “The tuition cut will lead to less revenue for the school. This will possibly mean furloughed employees as well as funding cuts for important university centers and services. It’s a tough situation in that regard, but it’s also the right thing to do. Georgetown should protect its employees and students above all during this time. Colleges should certainly strongly consider tuition cuts, but only if they can do it in an equitable manner that protects low-income populations. A tuition cut looks like good publicity, but unless it’s done correctly, it can mean serious harm to the student body of these schools.”
Auva Amirmokri, a rising freshman at the University of Maryland, shared her thoughts on the current situation in terms of tuition, education, and housing as well. She will be living off campus for the fall semester, and although all of her classes will be held virtually, UMD’s tuition remains the same. When asked how the tuition rate staying the same has impacted her, she stated the following: “As the youngest of three, my brothers and I will all be in school in the fall, and it’s definitely not easy having to deal with the costs of three kids in college. However, because I won’t be living on campus, I won’t be paying for room and board, so that will help my family out a lot.” She also noted that although she understands that the school needs money to function, she feels it’s not fair to the students. “We aren’t getting the same level of education through Zoom as we would in person.”
Amirmokri also addressed that although covering tuition is worrisome for many students, due to COVID-19, everything in general is more difficult and requires adjustments. “The university has to deal with liability issues and has to try to plan everything to go smoothly. For staff, they have to adjust their curriculums to be online, and it’s definitely not an easy task.” Still, she thinks students are paying for the quality of education they receive, and that freezing tuition should not be the plan of action colleges and universities take. Moreover, Amirmokri stated “I don’t think any colleges should be housing students, to be honest. The way the U.S. is handling COVID-19 right now, it seems as though students will be sent back home after a month on campus.”
Many students with different financial situations feel differently about the tuition issue. Unlike Amirmokri, Meghana Kotraiah, a rising freshman who will also be attending UMD, looks favorably upon the frozen tuition. She has also selected the fully virtual version and is unsure of what to expect. “My plant sciences class was supposed to have around 3 days of lecture, and then one lab session per week. Now, it’s been altered to one singular synchronous lecture session, so it’s going to be interesting to see how material is taught.” She finds that in such an unprecedented circumstance, “there isn’t a perfect solution for the evolving situation.”
Kotraiah’s financial situation differs from many other students due to her scholarship. She noticed that her scholarship terms stated that her scholarship amount could be reduced if the cost of her attendance is lowered. “I immediately called UMD Financial Aid and inquired if my scholarship amount would be reduced if I decided to live at home and not pay for room and board. They told me that it would not be reduced, and I was very thankful for that, because I think that would have really affected my personal situation. However, I don’t think this is the case for everyone, as the scholarship amount is different for different people, and it might be adjusted for others depending on their cost of attendance.”
Kotraiah also noted that although UMD did not lower tuition costs, she is grateful they did not raise the costs for the 2020-2021 school year. “I have friends who’s schools have increased tuition for this year, and I do not think that is fair for students. Obviously these are trying times, and it is not right for a school to increase costs after a student has committed. I think colleges across the country should be doing things more similarly to UMD. I have a friend attending Ohio State University who didn’t have an all online option. I also have friends attending schools in the south that have most, if not all, classes in person. I feel confident in [UMD’s] decision to freeze tuition amounts and offer a significant amount of online classes.”
It is evident that the situation COVID-19 has left colleges in is not an easy one, and everyone will have to make adjustments. The escalating numbers of cases in the DMV have left many hesitant for the fall semester, and it is difficult to predict how the virus will truly affect students and families.
Through Teen Lenses: Colleges around the United States are taking different approaches when it comes to tuitions. What is your school doing for the upcoming year, and what would you want colleges to consider in terms of tuition?
“My school for the upcoming semester will be increasing their tuition rate due to Covid-19 and the sanitization of campus, moreover several of my peers are annoyed that their scholarships will not receive an adjustment due to this change. I understand the reason why our tuition had increased however seeing how Florida has an alarming amount of Covid-19 I believed it would have been in the College’s best interest to move to a fully online setting. However, it brings up the concerns of international students who may not be able to return home for the following semester who need a dorm to stay for the months to come. Honestly, Colleges are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to schooling for the next semester.” Varun Kota, 18, Rising Sophomore at Nova Southeastern College
“Purdue is trying a system that makes it possible for students to opt for a fully online option – if students want to be fully only they’ll have a significantly reduced tuition, while students who will be on campus pay the same rates as they usually would. I do think, however, that colleges should consider that tuition right now will be more difficult for some families than others given the pandemic’s influence on the job market. Purdue has a good system but I think all colleges could improve upon their opportunities for financial aid regardless of the initial income bracket students were in when they applied.” Evan Williams, 18, Rising Freshman at Purdue University, South Riding, VA
“UVA is having a hybrid approach, with some classes in person but most classes online- and all of my classes are online. I was honestly a little upset at first, especially considering tuition will be the same and this will be my last year. But I took a course online through UVA this summer and the professor was still super engaged with students and he held virtual office hours and was readily available via email which made me feel like the virtual format didn’t really hinder my learning. I also think this was the best call because I’ve been back in Charlottesville and a lot of students aren’t wearing masks or social distancing so I wouldn’t really be able to trust that my classmates were doing their best to help people around them stay safe. Also, professors are often in the categories of people most susceptible to the coronavirus, so it makes sense that they don’t feel comfortable with in-person classes.” Arpitha Shenoy, 20, Rising Junior at the University of Virginia