This is likely to be an unpopular opinion, and you’re free to disagree with us, but here’s how we see the situation with top schools and tuition.
No, the students at Harvard and Stanford and University of Pennsylvania and Columbia and wherever didn’t sign up for an online education.
a) The education they’re getting right now at all of those places is from super qualified professors who are experts in their respective fields
b) Not exclusively, but for a lot of them, the students who are attending those universities are going there because of the brand
When you pay a high tuition at a prestigious university, yes you’re paying for the education, and the experience of that wonderful place.
But you’re paying for the prestige.
You’re paying to be part of the elite club of folks who has been anointed with that wonderful thing called privilege.
Please don’t talk to the ‘Snark about how it’s basically Khan Academy.
If you’re motivated to learn, you will learn.
It’s true that it’s a vastly different experience than they expected. Yes, there is validity to complaints that it’s difficult, and depressing, and sad not to see your friends, that you miss the camaraderie, the functions, the free pizza. The conversations in The Quad, the Happy Hour, the socializing. The guest speakers on campus (though many schools are doing Zooms for those now). The recruiting.
We totally respect that there’s a lot missing and it’s not what you wanted from your college or MBA experience.
But to complain that you should get a refund in tuition (which we know none of you are doing, but just sayin’) — well, for starters, lots of schools implemented lenient leave-of-absence policies, where a student could ditch out for a term if they wanted, and wouldn’t have to pony up the tuition. Students had that choice, at many places, and will continue to have that option as this pandemic is part of the picture.
However, tuition is for the education and we just don’t see how the argument for a refund of tuition holds water simply because the medium of the education changed. Maybe if you’re a sciences student. Hard to justify it for liberal arts or business school or other such disciplines.
If the students want a school to be able to come back to, then they need to be willing to pay tuition for the education they’re receiving in the online format. Schools have tremendous fixed costs (not that that’s the problem of the student). We are NOT on the schools’ side when it comes down to the gouging they do to students with ever-higher tuitions. But in this case, it just comes across as entitlement, to hear the whingeing.
Yes, the schools absolutely should be refunding activity fees, and rent and residence fees, and costs of meal plans — and they are. But tuition? How does that work?
Higher ed has gotten a massive influx of cash in the bailout package that Congress passed, because yes, schools across America are in trouble. There will be reductions in programs, scaling back of electives, layoffs of adjunct faculty. Research budgets are getting slashed and infrastructure investment has been put on ice. The elite schools will weather this storm, but many local colleges or small regional universities are likely to go belly up in the coming year.
We’re not saying that the students shouldn’t get tuition refunds because we think that the schools need the money more. We’re saying it because by and large, the loudest voices clamoring for these tuition refunds were emanating from the ultra prestigious schools.
When all of this is over and those students have graduated, they will still be benefiting from the brand of their school. That aura of privilege will be with them for life. They will forever be associated with that level of elite.
Which is why people want to go to these schools in the first place.
It’s not because these schools have better pizza parties or more beautiful Quads or their high-tech classrooms or ivy-covered walls mean that someone will be better able to learn there.
EssaySnark just sees it as hypocrisy. The students want to be part of a highly respected institution because of the cachet that the school has developed over its entire history of standing for something in academia. But now that they are forced to learn from their bedrooms — being taught by the same professors, with the same cohort of high-achieving peers as before — then all of a sudden it’s not worth the price?
Maybe it’s just because of the stigma against online education that’s so hard to shake, even as online education has grown up in the past ten years. Certainly there are diploma mills that exist online, for-profit organizations that call themselves “universities” but really do a shoddy job at actually facilitating learning, that have incredibly low standards and will graduate anyone who is willing to pay, that are not accredited and are one small step above scams.
Obviously that’s not what’s going on at Stanford and Northwestern and Dartmouth right now.
If you’re thinking about trying for a Fall matriculation at a top-notch MBA program, then don’t expect them to be making any huge cuts to the tuition. Sure, it’s possible that they decide to offer some concessions if it turns out that they’re having real trouble filling their incoming classes. However we’re doubtful that they will come up short in number of students to matriculate, even if they have to stick with the online format for the outset of the MBA experience for these Class of 2022 folks.
Lots of wait-and-see still, but as we opined before, the Fall term is likely also going to be online (we’re working on updated predictions for which schools are more likely to have an on-campus option sooner). Keep that in mind as you put together your plans for your Round 3 Flex/Rolling application. Are you willing to pay the going rate for an elite MBA if it means you might not have the on-campus experience for the entire two years? If you’re not willing to pay full fare, then that’s totally your call, but we have to ask: Why not? What do you feel you’d be sacrificing if it were online-only for awhile? What price should be attributed for that piece that is missing? How much should they discount it before you’d be willing to go? If one semester at a top program is in the neighborhood of $35,000, how much do you think it actually should be if you’re doing your learning from home? If, say, MIT said that they’d love to have you in their Class of 2022, but hey, it might have to be done online initially, and yeah, we’re charging you the same tuition… Would you pass up the chance?
Students who are currently doing Zoom classes from their pyjamas are still earning course credit which advances their progress towards earning their degrees. When they finish those degrees, their value in society (at least for business students) is markedly increased.
College is a service. It’s not a place. You’re paying for the intangibles of an opportunity to learn. You are paying for being given an environment in which you are expected to work (aka learn). You’re given resources like a library (now available online) and qualified experts to teach you (online) and other students to engage in the learning with (online). The service, and opportunity, and environment are still all available. And the fancy diploma you’ll get to hang on your wall.
There are no apples-to-apples comparisons. It’s not like if you’re considering buying a car, and this model has XYZ features for $35,000, and this other one has ABC features for $25,0000, and you decide if you really care about the XYZ features and want to pay the extra $10,000 for them.
But unlike with a car loan, your investment in your education will change the future trajectory of the entire rest of your life. Not only does the education result in higher potential earnings from the moment you complete the degree on, but even if it didn’t, you should amortize the price you pay for it across all of your future income-producing years. And, when paying your tuition, remember what you’re buying. You’re paying for the process of learning, but you’re also paying for the value of the association with that prestigious university for the rest of your life.
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