Money Now + Beyond

Are online college classes worth the hefty tuition fees?

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreaks, the future for students remains extremely uncertain. We do not know when or if the world will return to normal. Will daily life ever be the way it used to? For college students hoping to return in the Fall for another semester, more specific questions loom on the horizon. If colleges are to resume online in the fall, is it worth paying high tuition rates just to have a limited, virtual experience? Online classes are undoubtedly a much different experience than in person courses. 

So much about college goes beyond merely the classes. There is campus life, activities, sports, and clubs, your housing, the dining options, and the environment of the college area you live in. Many of those things would be nonexistent if schools were to be solely online. For students, going back to college towns or cities would also feel pointless.

I feel less engaged and struggle to absorb the information.

Besides missing out on experiences that make college a unique time, students may struggle to learn effectively online. For one, many colleges that conduct classes in person are not used to formatting their courses for online learning. Professors may struggle as to how best to translate their curriculum to an online setting. Depending on your learning style, online courses may also present unique difficulties. I’ve been doing classes online for the past few months, and they’ve been negatively impacting my ability to learn. As a hands-on learner, I feel less engaged and struggle to absorb the information fully. I know many students feel similarly. 

There is a huge difference between being physically present in a classroom and taking a course online. We know that attention spans often suffer due to technology. There are also huge privilege gaps we need to acknowledge when it comes to online learning. People’s living environments and home lives vary significantly. This may make finding a quiet and focused place to tune into classes difficult. There are also huge disparities in people’s levels of access to technology. Some people don’t have a laptop of their own or reliable WIFI in their homes. Ignoring these issues is ignorant and harmful.  

Despite the clear difference in quality of learning, many colleges aren’t offering many refunds on tuition fees for students now learning through Zoom. Many students have retailiated by creating and signing petitions calling for tuition refunds. According to U.S. News, in a sample of 100 colleges, none of them were refunding tuition, instead they were only addressing refunds for room and board or parking. For many students and parents, spending full tuition or even a slightly discounted rate does not feel worthwhile for a completely virtual experience from a non-online certified university.

Students are petitioning for tuition refunds.

College tuitions are hefty to begin with. In the 2019 to 2020 school year, the average costs for tuition and fees were $41,426 for private colleges, $11,260 for state residents at public colleges, and $27,120 for out-of-state students at state schools. One possibility for compromise would be for students to enroll in an online university or local community college for a semester or as long as it takes to ride out the pandemic.

Online colleges are well versed in running curriculum virtually. They also offer significantly cheaper rates, often charging only half of what in-person colleges charge. Community colleges also offer the benefit of cheaper price-tags. For college students looking to save money until schooling can resume in person, online schooling or community college may be the way to go. 

Due to this pandemic’s effects on the economy, money mindfulness and saving is more important than ever. In order to ride out this time, we should be sensitive to everyone’s financial situations. For college students, online classes and life during the pandemic may be a huge adjustment. In order to weather that transition, we have to be open to new and creative solutions to learning and saving money.

By Maggie Mahoney

Maggie Mahoney is an editorial fellow based in Washington D.C. She is a soon to be graduating senior at American University studying Literature with a minor in Communications. Maggie is passionate about poetry, elementary education, blogging, and R&B music. She loves to cook and try new cuisines and considers herself a textbook Virgo.